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Friday December 20, 2002Volleyball Falls to USC 3-1 in NCAA Semifinal

New Orleans, LA

The University of Florida volleyball team accomplished what no other Gator team in history was able to do, but the final outcome was not in UF's favor with the Gators losing 3-1 to top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Southern California in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship with game scores of 24-30, 30-25, 30-26, 30-24.

"Our play tonight would have won a lot of previous matches against teams that Florida has faced in the Final Four," UF head coach Mary Wise said. "It just wasn't good enough to beat this USC team this year."

UF's 30-24 victory in game 1 was the first time the Gators had ever won a game in the NCAA Semifinals in six appearances. Florida ends the season with a 34-3 record, while the Women of Troy improve to 30-1 and face Pac-10 rival Stanford in Saturday's championship match. In the first semifinal match, the defending champion Cardinal (33-4) swept Hawai'i 3-0 with game scores of 30-25, 30-27, 30-24.

Florida hit a season-low .100 and committed a season-high 44 errors in the loss. Four Gators posted double-figure digs, with Aury Cruz leading the team with a match-high 16. Cruz also totaled a match-high 19 kills, marking the eight time this season the Gator junior has posted at least 19 kills. Michelle Chatman also tallied 12 kills for UF.

UF's lone senior, Nicole McCray, ends her career ranked fifth on UF's all-time kills list with 1,274 and second for blocks with 529.

USC landed a .193 hitting percentage during the match, including a .372 during game three. Four Trojans recorded double-figure digs, while three landed double-figure kills, paced by Keao Burdine's 16. USC out-blocked UF 17-11 during the match.

Florida won the first point of game 4, but USC peeled off a 6-1 run to take an early lead before the Gators rallied with three straight points, capped by a kill from Aury Cruz, to close within one. The Trojans slowly started to pull away, leading by as many as eight points, 16-8. UF refused to fold and whittled the Trojan advantage to two as late as 19-17, but USC continued to string together points and the Gators couldn't get any closer, as the Trojans took game 4 and clinched the match.

USC took game three, but not without a tough fight from the Gators. UF led by one point three times early in the game, but could not distance itself. Leading 8-7, the Trojans won four of the next five points to take a four-point advantage, 12-8. However, the Gators rallied back to get within one, 13-12, after a Jacque Robinson ace. Again, USC marched to a four-point led, but UF countered and dropped the advantage to one several times, but just couldn't tied the score until the 40th point of the game, when Nicole McCray and Michelle Chatman blocked Bibiana Candelas. But on the ensuing point, Chatman had an attack error, as the Trojans ripped off four consecutive points as part of a 7-2 run to take their largest lead of the game, 27-22, en route to winning game and taking a 2-1 advantage.

The Gators started quickly in game two, racing out to a 4-0 lead. But USC ripped off 15 of the next 18 points to take an eight-point lead, 15-7. Sherri Williams nailed a pair of kills to stop a Trojan run of seven consecutive points and spark a spree of UF winning 11 of the next 14 to close within two, 18-16. The teams split the next four points before USC went on a 7-2 run. But Florida fought back and won four straight and make the score 27-24, before the Trojans captured three of the next four to even the match at 1-all. Both teams hit at a much higher percentage in the second game than they did in the first, with USC at .282 compared to the .024 in game one, and UF at .208 as opposed to .128. Another difference was the blocking, where USC earned a 9-7 advantage in game two, while UF held a 6-4 edge in the opening game.

Florida opened the match scoring the first three points, before USC took three of the next four to close the Gator gap to one, 4-3. But UF ripped off the ensuing six points to earn a 10-3 advantage. The Women of Troy captured three of the next four points, but the Gators regrouped to win the next two and keep a six-point lead. The teams traded a pair of points for the next few minutes until UF won three straight to halt the trend and take a 20-12 advantage. But USC rallied for the next three before the teams alternated 11 consecutive points, as UF led 26-20. The Gators then calmly won the next four of the next eight points, capped by Jacque Robinson's fourth kill of the game to secure the 30-24 win.

 

Match Notes:

*UF's .100 hitting percentage was its lowest hitting percentage as a team this season.

*The 44 hitting errors was a season-high.

*UF was playing its sixth NCAA Semifinal match in program history.

*UF's 30-24 victory in game 1 was the first time the Gators had ever won a game in the NCAA Semifinals in six appearances.

*Florida is 34-13 all-time in the NCAA Championship, including a 33-12 mark under Mary Wise.

*Tonight was the second time this season Florida has played the No. 1-ranked in the country. On September 14, the Gators defeated then-top-ranked Stanford 3-0 (30-18, 30-24, 30-25) in Gainesville.

*Benavia Jenkins' fourth block of the match was her 500th this season.

*Nicole McCray's third kill of the match was her 400th this season.

*Jen Mandes' sixth dig of the match was her 200th this season.

*Tonight was the eighth time this season Aury Cruz has had 19 or more kills in a match.

*Senior Nicole McCray ends her career fifth on UF's all-time kills list with 1,274 and second for blocks with 529.

END OF REPORT

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