The Razorbacks went to Lexington with 37 straight losses to the No. 5 Kentucky. On Friday, they won two.
Arkansas hit back at a 0-2 deficit in Game 1 of the series against defending national champions the Wildcats and won the third and fourth sets 27-25 and 25-19. The comeback was short as Kentucky won the fifth set 15-8 and the game 3-2.
The Wildcats remain undefeated in the SEC (7-0). The Hogs are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in conference. The two set wins are the first against Kentucky since 2013, the first in Jason Watson’s tenure as head coach, and the first for the Razorbacks at Lexington since 2012.
Junior Jill Gillen led Arkansas on the night with 17 kills. Sophomore Taylor Head added a double-double with 14 kills and 16 digs, a team high. First-year passer Hannah Hogue saw her first regular-season action for the Razorbacks and had nine assists, second behind senior Gracie Ryan, who had 42. Ryan also had 42 digs for her 11th double-double from the season.
The two teams were closely linked to start in the first set, and neither team allowed the other to score more than two points at a time until the halfway point, when Kentucky capitalized and took a lead. five points at 15-10. Outside of the media timeout, the Hogs added three points, including a victory for graduate Hailey Dirrigl, and Arkansas kept on Kentucky’s heels. The Razorbacks tied the score several times, until the Wildcats added two insurance points for the set point. Arkansas couldn’t get out of a timeout, and a Kentucky kill ended the set 25-22 for the home team.
Kentucky came out fast and furious in the second set and quickly took an 8-2 lead. While the Hogs were able to stop the Wildcat race at some points, they couldn’t make their own and never trailed less than four from there. Arkansas took a 17-10 timeout, and while the Razorbacks added one run, the Wildcats added three runs for another Hog group. Kentucky limited Arkansas to just two more points and was first at 25 for a 25-13 second win and a 2-0 advantage.
The third set consisted of all the Wildcats early on, but the Hogs quickly gained momentum following two Kentucky attacking errors and a Gillen kill for a 6-6 tie. Kentucky regained and extended their lead to 13-9, but Arkansas scored five unanswered runs for a 14-13 advantage, sending the Wildcats to a timeout. It was a back-and-forth battle after that, but Arkansas gained a two-point cushion from a Kentucky error and a Cartwright kill and went up 20-18. The Wildcats pushed back and were in set and match points with a 23-22 lead, but the Hogs came right back and got their own set point up 24-23. Two wins by Gillen closed the game for Arkansas and sealed the team’s first win over Kentucky in eight years at 27-25, and put the Hogs back in the game.
Arkansas’ most dominant performance of the night came in the fourth set, but it wasn’t easy. The team used a four-run run underlined by two aces from Cartwright and a kill from Gillen to pull away from Kentucky with a 15-12 advantage. The Wildcats didn’t go easy and limited the Hogs to two points at a time, but they couldn’t catch up. Arkansas extended their lead to 22-17 thanks to kills from Gillen and Head, and another from Cartwright brought the set point. Kentucky added another, but Cartwright responded for the 25-19 win and forcing a fifth.
The Razorbacks got the first point in the fifth and final set and kept it close early, but Kentucky picked up the momentum halfway through with an 8-4 lead. Arkansas took a 10-5 timeout, but the Wildcats hit back with two more runs. The Hogs got there at eight, but Kentucky quickly ended it and won the final set 15-8.
The two teams will meet for the series final in Lexington at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be broadcast live on SEC Network + and Kentucky will provide live stats.
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