By LARRY VAUGHT
Heather Olmstead worries about all the options that Kentucky has going into Friday’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 matchup.
“I think offensively they’re very good. Obviously, they’re at home so they’ve got an advantage there and then defensively as well they put up a big block, so we’re looking on how to take our advantages there, offensively and defensively, because we want to serve tough. Everyone wants to serve tough and pass well. Hopefully we can have good offensive numbers and defensive numbers as well,” said the BYU coach Thursday.
BYU is on a nine-match win streak, has lost just twice this season and is in the Sweet 16 for the sixth straight year. It played in the regional at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington two years ago.
“I think we’re pretty similar. Even statistically, it is very hard to find tons of differences,” Olmstead said about the two teams. “I think we have big, physical athletes, great setters and good passing. It will be interesting to match up and see on the court when we play where those differences are. Statistically, we’re trying to find differences and look for advantages and things like that but it has been difficult,” the BYU coach said.
“I think Coach Skinner does a great job with his training. Two years ago when we were here they texted us if they could come watch practice because they weren’t in the regional but maybe I shouldn’t have let them. I don’t know. So, it is kind of ironic and kind of cool. Just watching their fifth set against Western Kentucky showed how resilient of a group they are and not willing to give up. I think that is very similar to our BYU group. We’re not afraid of any task and are going to take it head first and never give up.”
Kentucky had to overcome a two-set deficit to beat Western Kentucky last weekend and advance. A win Friday would put UK in the regional final Saturday against the Nebraska-Colorado winner.
“The later you get in the season the more there’s this urgency that you don’t want this ride to end. Obviously, for the seniors you just want to see how far you can go,” Olmstead said. “One of our goals this whole year was to see how good this 2017 team can be and that’s still yet to be determined. We’re just trying to get better every day and we want to see how good this group can be.”
Kentucky coach Craig Skinner thinks BYU is good. Really good.
“They know how to win. They’ve been here before. They have experienced outside hitters that do a great job, they’re physical in the middle, their setter does a great job, they’re well-coached. There’s not much to say that there’s anything wrong with Brigham Young. I think it’s a good matchup for us,” Skinner said Thursday.
“I think we are physical in every position, we’ve got a lot of experience, a lot of athleticism. You could go back and forth about what we have and what BYU has. The balance of what they do is something we have to do a good job of trying to minimize their ability to score points.”
Kentucky’s only SEC loss was to Florida, a team that dominated UK at the net at times with its blocking.
Skinner says BYU is organized with its blocking and will give UK problems.
“They spend a lot of time, you can tell, trying to read offenses, they have the size. You don’t just become a good blocker because you’re tall. Tall doesn’t mean you’re a good blocker because actually, it give you more targets to hit off of if you’re a hitter. ‘Hey, there’s a hand, let me hit off of it.’ You can tell they work on it and spend energy on it. That’s why it’s a pretty interesting matchup because both teams are pretty physical at the net and their height has given them advantages and given us advantages all year long,” Skinner said.
Skinner says it “awesome” that UK gets to host the regional and keep a normal routine.
“We’ll have a chance to look back and reflect on what we’ve earned when the season is over. We want to try keep this thing going as long as we can. It’s special, and we’re embracing that and taking advantage of each hour we have to try and get better. Being at home is a great thing,” the Kentucky coach.
He doesn’t want his team too emotional being at home or coming off the five-set win over Western Kentucky.
“You want to try and be the same all the time. You win a match like that (against Western), it gives you belief and confidence that you can do it. We certainly don’t want to go into a game plan and devise a blueprint to get down 2-0 and fight our way back,” Skinner said.
“Each match presents a different challenge. Tomorrow’s match will present something to us in the first couple of games. We will either ride what we’re doing, if it’s working or figure out how to adjust and counter-attack what they’re doing. Like LSU, like winning on the road at Florida, like winning some of the matches we did in pre-conference. It adds to our toolbox of things we can pull from in our next match.”