Balanced offensive effort leads No. 11 Kansas past Oklahoma, 3-1
NORMAN, Okla. — Led by a balanced offense that went early and often through middle blockers Zoe Hill and Mmachi Nwoke, No. 11 Kansas volleyball defeated Oklahoma on Saturday night at McCasland Field House in four sets (25-18, 25-19, 24-26, 25-11).
KU’s starting middle blockers Hill and Nwoke finished with a combined 21 kills, zero attacking errors and 10 blocks to diversify KU’s offensive attack and secure KU’s front-line defense. Hill tied her career high of 10 kills on a .769 hitting percentage with five blocks. Nwoke, making her first start as a Jayhawk, set a career high in kills (11) on a .786 hitting percentage with five blocks.
“Getting our middle offense going early really opened up everything for us tonight,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “I don’t know how often you get 21 kills and no errors out of your middles, but I love it. The other thing we paid special attention to was our blocking — 12 blocks. When we have a good middle offense, are low-error and our blocking is on-point, we are a hard team to beat.”
Kansas out-blocked Oklahoma, 12.0 to 2.0, and recorded just 12 attacking errors to OU’s 32.
The Jayhawks (16-2, 5-0 Big 12) win their 19-straight Big 12 Conference match entering Wednesday’s bout with No. 5 Texas. Oklahoma falls to 4-14 on the season and 1-4 in Big 12 play.
The career days for Hill and Nwoke opened up options for senior All-American Kelsie Payne, who recorded all of her match-high 13 kills in the second and third sets.
Senior All-American Ainise Havili set KU’s offense to a .333 hitting percentage, including just three attacking errors during the first, second and fourth sets. The Fort Worth, Texas, native reached her 15th double-double of the season with 46 assists and a match-high 14 digs. Havili’s 46 assists inched her closer to KU’s career assists record, now needing just 22 to break Andi Rozum’s record of 4,772 set from 2002 to 2005.
“Our hitting efficiency tonight is a direct result of her and the decisions she makes,” Bechard glowed after the match.
On OU’s first serve of the match, Kansas set the tone as Havili assisted Hill for a first-ball kill up the middle — the first of three-straight kills by Hill to open the match. Kansas did not record an attacking error on the way to a .567 first-set hitting percentage. Hill led the Jayhawks with five kills, while outside hitters Jada Burse and Madison Rigdon had four each on the way to a 25-18 first-set win.
Kansas continued its offensive efficiency with a .414 hitting percentage during a 25-19 second-set victory. KU’s first attacking error of the night wasn’t until the midway point of the second set. Facing a 13-12 deficit, the Jayhawks went on a 4-0 run to take control of the second set. Kansas endured nine ties and five lead changes before pulling away. Payne finished with six kills in the second set, including a set-point kill to secure KU’s 25-19 victory.
KU’s sloppy start to the third set was nearly overcome late, but Oklahoma eventually forced a fourth set with a 26-24 third-set win. Entering the third set, KU had just two attacking errors. By the time OU took a 10-6 lead in the third, the Jayhawks already had committed five third-set attacking errors. A 4-0 run by KU tied the third set at 18. The set was tied five more times, but the Jayhawks could not gain the upper-hand before OU took the 26-24 decision.
In the fourth set, Kansas jumped out to a 4-0 lead and didn’t look back, clinching the match with a 25-11 victory. KU’s serve dictated the momentum as the Jayhawks enforced an 81 percent side-out rate in the fourth. Kansas would take advantage of 12 OU attacking errors, holding the Sooners to a -.152 hitting percentage. The Jayhawks posted nine kills on a .364 hitting percentage in the final set.
Freshman setter Annika Carlson made her collegiate debut late in the fourth set as she subbed in for Havili with Kansas leading 22-11. Senior defensive specialist Tori Miller recorded one of her two aces on the night to bring KU to match point. OU committed an attacking error on match point to give KU the 25-11 win.
Kansas returns home on Wednesday to play host to No. 5 Texas — KU’s fifth ranked opponent to compete in Horejsi Family Athletics Center this season. ESPNU will televise the match between the last two teams to win the Big 12 title. First serve is schedule for 8 p.m. Central.
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