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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | April 23, 2021

Kentucky vs. Texas: Preview, how to watch the NCAA volleyball championship live from Omaha

Kentucky vs Texas volleyball: The 2020-21 national championship, previewed

It's here: No. 2 Kentucky takes on No. 4 Texas in the first DI women's volleyball title game since December of 2019. 

The match is at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 24, and will be live on ESPN2. We're also covering it live here from Omaha with updates before, during and after the game. You can stream the game on ESPN Watch.

This championship match features two of the most balanced teams in the country this season. Both Kentucky and Texas had four players in double-digit kills in their semifinal wins. These teams have dominated the tournament, dropping only one set apiece.

Here is another thing about these two final teams: both have played practically two seasons this year. The SEC and Big 12 were two of the few conferences to start play in the fall and then continue in the spring when the rest of the conferences started. The Longhorns are 27-1 on the season, and went a perfect 16-0 in Big 12 Conference play during the regular season. The Wildcats went 23-1 in the regular season with just one loss to Florida, who they swept the next night. 

How Kentucky and Texas fared in the national semifinals

No. 2 Kentucky took down Washington in four sets behind a season-high 63 assist performance from the AVCA National Player of the Year Madison Lilley.

The Wildcats were dominant in the first set before dropping their first set of the tournament in the second. They weren't phased though and sparked a 9-1 run to win the third set after falling behind.

Avery Skinner led all players with 19 kills in the match on 46 swings, as she hit .286. Madi Skinner, Azhani Tealer and Alli Stumler all had 13 kills for the Wildcats and Tealer hit a team-high .385 percent.

The Wildcats are playing very clean volleyball right now, their serve and pass game is strong and they have a setter that is extremely good at distributing the ball to all of their weapons.

You can watch highlights from the match here and see all of Avery Skinner's 19 kills here. Here's what Skinner had to say after the game:

Hear from Kentucky volleyball's Avery Skinner after her 19 kills in the semifinal win over Washington

No. 4 Texas took down Wisconsin, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, in a dominating sweep. This marked Wisconsin's only loss this year.

Texas' performance was so impressive on so many levels. They held All-Americans Dana Rettke and Molly Haggerty to only six kills and low hitting efficiency. The Longhorns were efficient again at the service line, getting Wisconsin off the net, on their heels, and limiting the Badgers' opportunities.

Meanwhile Jhenna Gabriel dished out 43 assists all across the board to four hitters that tallied double-digit kills: Logan Eggleston (17), Asjia O'Neal (11), Brionne Butler (11) and Skyler Fields (12). 

Another big success for the Longhorns was a dominant night from middle blockers Brionne Butler and Asjia O'Neal. Butler and O'Neal each finished with 11 kills apiece, while O'Neal had three blocks and Butler added two. Both players hit over .600 in the match and helped hold Wisconsin to a .220 hitting percentage. The backcourt defense passed really well, allowing players like Fields and Eggleston to hammer down un-defendable balls.

Watch highlights from the match here and hear from Skylar Fields here:

Texas volleyball's Skylar Fields says 'we handled our business' in sweep over Wisconsin

The championship matchup

I don't think there is any denying it. These two teams are absolutely playing the best volleyball out of anyone and couldn't be more deserving of competing for the national title. The Longhorns, right now, look really difficult to beat. The first word that comes to mind is firepower, and they have a lot of it. All of their players are not only physical players, but they complement that with ball control. The serve-and-pass game has been absolutely crushing opponents. They find so much success at the service line getting their opponents out of system. Wisconsin was forced to send a lot of free balls over the net. Their back-court defense has been flawless, sending perfect passes to set up their extremely powerful hitters perfectly. 

Kentucky, though, is aggressive at the service line as well. They had six aces against UW, and they have one of the most efficient offenses in the country led by Lilley. I don't expect them to struggle in the serve-and-pass game like Wisconsin did against Texas. This team has just as many weapons as the Longhorns and extreme ball control. Lilley gets to the ball no matter where it is and is masterful at distributing it to her abundance of options.

Alli Stumler, Avery Skinner and Madi Skinner have been phenomenal for the Wildcats, and Azhani Tealer has been a huge spark. The Wildcats do not make a lot of unforced errors — they have made 169 this season compared to Texas' 278. Gabby Curry leads their backcourt defense and is one of the best liberos in the country. I think the Wildcats' performance in the third set of the Washington game, their ability to climb out of a hole in the way that they did and go on a huge run, showed so much toughness. That will be huge against a team like Texas. 

The Wildcats will need to figure out a way to slow down the Longhorns' production out of the middle. Texas needs to slow the Wildcats' efficient offense in the same way they did to Wisconsin. The Longhorns will likely utilize their tough serving to force Lilley to dig a lot of balls and therefore unable to set the second ball.

This really is the two best teams in the country and it will be a great match. 

Here is how they match up, statistically: 

TALE OF THE TABLE
  ATTACK  
.335 Percentage .361
14.6 Kills/set 15.2
  SET  
13.5 Assists/set 14
  SERVE  
1.6 Aces/set 1.6
278 Errors 169
  RECEPTIONS  
1.1 Errors/set .9
  DEFENSE  
13.3 Digs/set 13.4
  BLOCKING  
2.8 Blocks/set 2.4

Texas and Kentucky's history in the title game

The Wildcats are in the national championship for the first time in program history. They have never been on this stage before but have put together a record season.

The Longhorns last appeared in the title game in 2016, with a loss to Stanford, and won their last title in 2012. Texas has two national titles. The Wildcats are looking for their first. 

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