UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – No. 1-seed Penn State (32-2) earned a 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-12) win against No. 16-seed Kentucky in the NCAA Regional Semifinal hosted by Purdue. The Nittany Lions will play in the regional championship on Saturday, Dec. 7 against either No. 8 Minnesota or Purdue.
Penn State improved to 77-26 overall in NCAA tournament matches. The Nittany Lions are appearing in the NCAA Regional Championship for the 13th time.
Junior Ariel Scott posted a match-high 11 kills, while junior Deja McClendon had eight. Sophomore Micha Hancock dished out 28 assists and had seven digs. Sophomore Dominique Gonzalez recorded a match-best 12 digs and McClendon had 10. Junior Katie Slay led Penn State with five total blocks and freshman Megan Courtney had four.
Penn State hit .306 against the Wildcats. The Nittany Lions totaled 37 kills, five aces, 42 digs and 7.0 team blocks. The Wildcats finished the match with a .040 hitting percentage. Kentucky posted 29 kills, two aces, 32 digs and 7.0 team blocks.
Penn State opened the match taking a 5-1 lead with kills from Scott, McClendon and Courtney. Kentucky responded with a 4-0 run to tie the set at five. A Wildcat error and a Slay kill gave Penn State a two-point cushion at 7-5. A 4-1 Kentucky run gave the Wildcats a 9-8 edge.
Courtney tied it up with a kill before Kayla Tronick sparked another 4-0 Kentucky run with a kill for a 13-9 lead. Penn State closed the gap to one, but Kentucky maintained the lead through the middle of the set. A Scott kill moved Penn State within one at 17-16, before a Wildcat error made it 17 all. Slay pounded a kill before another Wildcat error and a Scott kill gave Penn State a three-point lead, 20-17. Kentucky called a timeout, but Penn State’s lead continued to grow as a Scott kill and a solo block by Slay had the Lions leading 22-17. Kentucky scored one more kill before three Wildcat errors in a row gave Penn State a 25-18 set one win.
Despite a close start to the second set, Penn State had an 8-4 advantage after four consecutive Kentucky errors. The Wildcats responded with a 5-1 run to tie the set at nine. A McClendon kill and a solo block by Hancock moved the Lions into the lead 12-10. A PSU service error closed the gap to one at 12-11, but two consecutive Penn State kills had the Lions leading by three.
A 3-1 Wildcat run had UK within one at 15-14, but a Scott putdown and a Courtney stuff had Penn State ahead by three again. Penn State’s lead grew to four 19-15 and Kentucky called a second timeout. The Wildcats fought to within two 22-20 and Penn State called a timeout. Despite a PSU error, two Kentucky attack errors and a McClendon ace secured set two for the Nittany Lions 25-21.
The Nittany Lions fell behind early 4-2, but two kills by the Lions and a Wildcat error moved Penn State on top 5-4. Penn State’s run continued with the Lions notching five points to Kentucky’s one for a 10-5 lead. Kentucky called a timeout and used a 3-0 run to be within two 10-8. A Scott kill and a UK error increased PSU’s lead to four 12-8. After a PSU service error, Penn State took off on a 4-0 run for a 16-9 lead. After a kill from UK’s Lauren O’Conner, a putdown by sophomore Nia Grant and back-to-back Hancock aces had the Lions with a nine-point lead 19-10. Penn State allowed the Wildcats two final kills before wrapping up the set. Grant had a kill, while Slay and Scott teamed up for a block to give Penn State a 25-12 third set victory.