LEXINGTON, Ky. – Despite showing great resolve and battling back from a 2-1 match deficit, the No. 10 Razorbacks weren’t able to complete back-to-back ranked victories on the road as the Hogs fell to the No. 20 Kentucky Wildcats in five sets at Rupp Arena Sunday afternoon.
The match is the first Arkansas has lost since the Razorbacks were defeated by the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers in August and ended Arkansas’ 16 match streak. Both the Hogs and Wildcats are now 8-1 in SEC play and tied for the lead in the conference.
Senior Taylor Head yet again came up big for the Razorbacks and had her second consecutive 20-kill contest as she tallied 24, which matches her new career record that she set on Friday. She also added 18 digs for a double-double, her 13th in 2023. Both numbers were team highs on the day.
Graduate outside hitter Jill Gillen posted a double-double as well with 23 kills and 15 digs and had team highs in blocks with five and service ace with four.
While the first set started tight, the Hogs used a pair of three-point runs early in the match and got out to a 7-5 lead. It was short-lived and there were five ties from there, but the Razorbacks locked in and went on a seven-point tear that featured two aces from Gillen, which put Arkansas up 18-11. The Wildcats limited Arkansas’ runs from there, but back-to-back kills from Head and Gillen pushed it to set point. Kentucky got one back, but another Gillen kill finished it 25-16 in favor of the Hogs.
Neither team gave the other room to breathe in the second set, but Kentucky found a rhythm and strung together four straight points for an 11-8 advantage. An Arkansas injury early in the set shook the Hogs, and the Wildcats limited them to one point at a time for most of the set. The Razorbacks were able to come within four, but four straight Kentucky points closed the set 25-16 and knotted the match at 1-1.
The Hogs found themselves in a hole early as the Cats went up by six through the 11th point. Arkansas huddled, but Kentucky scored six straight for an 11-point edge shortly after for a 19-8 lead. Another ace from Gillen put the Razorbacks over 10, but they were still chasing. The Hogs locked in and rattled off six, which cut the deficit to three points as the Wildcats approached set point. Arkansas spoiled it twice but ultimately ran out of time, and Kentucky took the third 25-22 for a 2-1 match lead.
The Razorbacks wouldn’t go quietly and after Kentucky grabbed a 5-4 lead, Arkansas responded with four unanswered points, including back-to-back aces from Maggie Cartwight, and went ahead 8-5. The Cats chipped away and came within two, but Arkansas dominated a 6-1 run and made it a comfortable 16-9. The Hogs grew the lead to as many as nine, and while Kentucky made a late push, Gillen had a pair of kills that shut the door 25-19 and forced a deciding fifth set.
The Razorbacks got the first two points of the fifth, but Kentucky quickly swung the momentum and scored seven for a 7-2 advantage. Arkansas regrouped and put down four straight kills and came within one and 7-6, which forced a Kentucky timeout. A Razorback service error put the lead back at two for the Cats, and they scored three of the next four for an 11-7 lead. Arkansas took a timeout but couldn’t find an answer for the Kentucky block, and the home team ultimately ended the fifth 15-10, handing the Hogs their first SEC loss of the season.
Arkansas has a three-match conference road stretch next week with matches at South Carolina on Oct. 27, at Florida on Oct. 29 and at Georgia on Nov. 1.
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