NCAA Tournament: Kansas Suffers Early Exit to UALR
TOPEKA, Kan. – Three Kansas players went over 10 kills – two even reached 15 – but 18.5 blocks by Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round of the NCAA Tournament led the Trojans over the Jayhawks in five sets Friday evening, ending KU’s season inside of the Topeka Expocentre 25-27, 25-19, 25-22, 18-25, 10-15.
Freshman middle blocker Kelsie Payne played the best match of her collegiate career after putting down a career-high 15 kills and another career-best eight blocks. Kansas (22-9, 10-6 Big 12) also had multiple standouts on the final box score, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to overcome the most Arkansas-Little Rock’s (30-4, 20-0 Sun Belt) most blocks by a Jayhawk opponent since Creighton tallied 20.0 team blocks in a 3-2 Jayhawk win on Sept. 19, 2012. With the victory, the Trojans extended their win streak to a nation-leading 25 matches.
“I’d like to congratulate Arkansas-Little Rock, first and foremost,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “They’ve had quite a run and they played great tonight. I think they deserve a high level of praise from us, but we’re extremely disappointed. It wasn’t our best effort or execution, but that’s the abruptness of the tournament. If you don’t play at the level you need to play at, a good team is going to hang around and continue to persevere.”
Freshman middle blocker Kelsie Payne
recorded a career-high 15 kills and eight blocks. In their final match as Jayhawks, senior outside hitter Sara McClinton joined Payne with 15 kills, three blocks and an ace next to her name, while senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers registered nine kills, six blocks, three assists and 20 digs. Junior outside hitter Tiana Dockery rounded out the Kansas leaderboard with her sixth double-double of the season after 14 kills and 10 digs.
Freshman setter Ainise Havili conducted the majority of the offense with her ninth 50-plus assist match of the year, finishing the night with a Kansas freshman record 1,332 assists in 2014. Defensively, sophomore libero Cassie Wait led the floor with 27 digs, giving her 561 for the season. Wait’s performance against the Trojans pushed her to second all-time on KU’s single-season digs list.
UALR was led by three-time Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year, senior outside hitter Edina Begic. She was one of three Trojans with a double-double on the night after a match-high 27 kills to go along with 19 digs and six blocks. Begic’s 27 kills were the most by a Kansas opponent since Lisa Henning of Missouri recorded 27 kills on Oct. 12, 2011. Just as debilitating at the net, UALR’s 18.5 blocks were the most by an opponent against the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament since No. 7 Washington rejected 18 KU attacks on Dec. 4, 2004 in the second round.
The frontline of UALR bothered the Jayhawks at the net throughout the first set as the Trojans had posted five blocks just 10 points into the match. The defensive effort didn’t translate onto the offensive side of the net for the Trojans, however, as they only had four kills on 22 attempts. Kansas was forced into a timeout after the Trojans sent back yet another attack giving them not only a 22-18 lead late in the period, but seven blocks in the first set alone.
The McClinton and Payne cut the UALR lead down to two points, 22-20 out of the timeout after two blocks and a kill between them. Payne continued to be a presence at the point of attack for Kansas, this time partnering with Albers to send back consecutive UALR attacks tying the score at 25-25. However, timely saves and kills from the Trojans gave them a first set victory 27-25.
Payne continued to engineer both the offense and defense for Kansas throughout the second set. Early on Payne had recorded five blocks while Albers was close behind her with three rejections of her own as Kansas led 9-6. After totaling seven kills and five blocks, Payne helped KU extend its lead to as many as nine points (18-9), but UALR responded with a resilient effort to cut the score down to four points, 21-17. At that point McClinton subbed back into the contest and played the role of closer smashing two of her eight total kills in a four-point span propelling Kansas to a 25-19 victory while tying the match at one set a piece.
The third set was by far the most evenly matched of the night. Points were hard to come by and neither team led by more than three at any point in the session. Trailing 20-18, Kansas burned a timeout to find an answer to the growing Trojan lead. Out of the stoppage, Payne put down another kill which was followed by two errors from UALR. Havili forced a Trojan timeout after her second ace gave Kansas its fourth-straight point and a 22-20 lead. The Jayhawks tacked on one more point giving them five-straight to lead 23-20. Kansas claimed the third set by way of Payne’s 10th kill 25-22, to pull ahead, 2-1.
The third and fourth set were nearly identical. Neither team was able to gain momentum and build a large lead. At the 15-point media timeout, Kansas trailed 15-12 after UALR strung two kills together to take the three-point advantage. Just like the previous period, Kansas trailed late in the set, this time 22-18, but wasn’t able to resurrect the third set comeback eventually falling 25-18 leading to a fifth and final set.
The Trojans struck first in the final set taking a 1-0 lead, but consecutive service aces by sophomore setter Maggie Anderson gave the Jayhawks a 4-2 advantage. UALR battled back and took the lead 8-6. After cutting the lead to one point twice late in the final set a timely block for the Trojans put Arkansas Little Rock ahead 13-10 leading to a Kansas timeout down to its last two points of the season.
Kansas was not able to muster another point out of the timeout as Arkansas Little Rock ended the Jayhawks’ season 15-10, 3-2 overall. Kansas ended 2014 tied for second place in the Big 12 Conference with a 22-9 overall record and a 10-6 mark in the conference.
- With her 15 kills against Arkansas Little Rock, senior outside hitter Sara McClinton finished her tenure in sixth place on KU’s all-time career kills list. McClinton has 1,272 for four-year career, landing her just 10 kills short of Amanda Reves’ fifth all-time 1,282 kills from 2008-11. McClinton finished second to Haley Eckerman of Texas for the lead among career kills for active Big 12 players.
- Sophomore libero Cassie Wait tallied 27 digs, pushing her season total to 561 which is the second best single-season dig number in KU history only to Brianne Riley’s 613 digs in 2012.
- Freshman setter Ainise Havili chalked up her 14th double-double of the year in assists (54) and digs (13) – the third-most DDs in the Big 12 and the most by a freshman. Havili finished the season tied for 10th in a season with 14 double-doubles in 2014.
- KU’s six service aces were one short of a season-high seven aces which was set in the season-opener against Utah Valley (8/29) and against American (9/13). Including Friday, the Jayhawks served six aces eight times in 2014.
- Through her first three seasons, senior outside hitter Sara McClinton had served just five times. She finished her career with seven aces in the last five matches after collecting one against UALR.
Kansas head coach Ray Bechard
“I’d like to congratulate Arkansas-Little Rock, first and foremost. They’ve had quite a run and they played great tonight. I think they deserve a high level of praise from us, but we are extremely disappointed. It wasn’t our best effort or execution, but that’s the abruptness of the tournament. If you don’t play at the level you need to play at, a good team is going to hang around and continue to persevere. We errored a bit too much in the fifth set to make that come out the way we wanted to. It’s going to hurt for a while, but at some point in time we’ll look back on this season and we’ll appreciate the great careers of two seniors among the young group we had. It’s difficult to get to that point. Once again, 40 hitting errors in five sets is too much. They did a good job blocking and getting in front of us, but we’ve got to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
On how much of a factor size played:
“The first set they blocked 8.5 (team blocks). After that I feel like we managed it much better. If you take low, hard swings against good teams, that’s going to come back at you. They blocked 18.5 for the match, but 8.5 of those came in the first set. We didn’t manage No. 9 (Edina Begic) as well as we wanted to. She’s a great player, and No. 20 (Sonja Milanovic) got them out of some binds, too. They were a physical team and organized blocking team and they were very organized behind their blocking, too.”
On Arkansas-Little Rock’s momentum entering the match:
“We were playing well late (in the season), but it’s been a while since they’ve lost, and we knew that. Our preparation following our great win last Saturday was good, but they carried that momentum into today’s match better than we did.”
Kansas Senior OH Chelsea Albers
On looking back on her career:
“I mean right now, at this point, we didn’t end our careers the way we wanted to. We were looking to go out in a significant way, this loss was not what we were looking for. Looking back on the past three years, making it to the tournament, we’ve had great teams, great teammates and some awesome coaches. We’ve had a very good career and I’m blessed to have been here, but right now it’s disappointing.”
Kansas Senior OH Sara McClinton
On the legacy she leaves at KU:
“We hope that as we leave, we can show our underclassmen that we need to be in the NCAA tournament every year, and how hard they have to work next year to have more success when they get to this stage.”
Kansas Setter Freshman Ainise Havili
On the difficulty of building momentum when UALR kept winning the serve:
“It’s hard to build momentum like that when you can’t keep the serve on your side of the net. I think we need to be better about keeping serves on our side. Momentum is the point of this game and we didn’t do a good job in the fifth set of keeping it.”
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