Defense steps up as No. 8 Kansas defeats Baylor, 3-1

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Eighth-ranked Kansas ended Baylor’s 10-match winning streak with a four-set victory (22-25, 25-19, 25-13, 25-23) on Saturday afternoon at Horejsi Family Athletics Center. The Jayhawks improve to 6-0 at home this season.

Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon shined once again with her second-straight 20-kill, double-double match, finishing with 20 kills and 13 digs. Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie and junior right-side hitter Kelsie Payne combined for 11 blocks as Kansas’ unflinching defense proved yet again to be a hard obstacle to overcome.

After Baylor started the match with a .457 hitting percentage in the first set, Kansas (13-2, 2-1 Big 12) slowed down the Bears’ offense to a combined .106 hitting clip in the last three sets.

“We thought we needed perimeter defense than physicality at the net because of the opponent we were playing,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “That helped us turn the corner a little bit. We just needed to get in the mindset of making plays in the back row after their attacks cleared our block.”

Despite the marked improvement after the first set, Kansas had to dig out of a 6-3 deficit in the second set. A timeout called by Kansas head coach Ray Bechard proved to be the turning point in the match, as the Jayhawks returned to the court on fire. Kansas rattled off a 6-1 run, punctuated by an ace from Rigdon to grab a 12-11 lead, KU’s first lead since the leading 1-0 in the first set. A kill by freshman middle blocker Zoe Hill that left the ball spinning on top of the net for a few moments clinched set point for Kansas. Rigdon brought the match to a 1-1 draw with an emphatic kill, one of her team-leading 20 kills on the day.

Kansas’ momentum bled into the third set, with the Jayhawks jumping to a 10-2 lead. KU’s defense stifled Baylor, holding the team to a .000 attack percentage. Senior libero Cassie Wait and junior setter Ainise Havili combined for 11 digs in the third set to fortify the defense. Kansas’ lead reached double-digits on a kill from Soucie that kissed the far corner just in front of the boundary line. A block by Soucie and Payne capped off a dominant 25-15 set win by the Jayhawks.

The fourth set did not come as easily for Kansas on the way to a close 25-23 match-clinching win over Baylor which included 11 ties. The teams traded two- and three-point runs but it was Kansas’ closing 3-0 run and a Soucie kill that sealed the match. Rigdon’s impact was felt on defense in this set, leading the team with five digs. Her efforts were buoyed by Payne’s efficient seven kills on 13 attempts.

“The Bears are for real,” Bechard said after the match. “Of all the teams we played this season, Baylor plays more for each other and plays as hard as anybody. They are legit. They beat (No. 17) Washington State a couple weeks ago at home. Baylor will be an NCAA tournament team — I don’t think there is a question.”

Kansas returns to action on Wednesday at Iowa State. The 6:30 p.m. Central first-serve from Ames will be televised nationally on FOX Sports Network.

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