TUCSON, Ariz. – Senior libero Candace Nicholson broke the school record for career digs and Arizona won the Wildcat Classic by earning a thrilling comeback win over UC Santa Barbara, 3-2 (25-13, 25-27, 15-25, 25-18, 16-14), Saturday night inside the McKale Center.
Nicholson needed just one dig to break Terry Lauchner’s all-time record for career digs at Arizona. Lauchner had 1,297 digs from 1987-90 and Nicholson’s 16 digs on the night give her 1,313 now for her career.
Arizona took home the tournament title at the Wildcat Classic by finishing a perfect 3-0 in the event. The Wildcats improved their record to 10-2 on the season, while UC Santa Barbara dropped to 5-7 on the year.
Junior Madi Kingdon was named tournament MVP after finishing with match-highs of 22 kills and 21 digs to go along with six blocks for her sixth double-double of the season.
Nicholson and Halli Amaro were also named to the all-tournament team. Amaro was incredible defensively for the night as she finished with 13 blocks to go along with eight kills. The 13 blocks tie for the second most in school history and they were the most since Dominique Lamb also recorded 13 back on Oct. 26, 2007 against Oregon State.
Meanwhile, Penina Snuka also had a double-double as she dished out a match-high 46 assists to go with 13 digs, four kills and two blocks. The Wildcats had five players record double-figure digs led by Kingdon, Nicholson and Snuka. Ronni Lewis and Laura Larson had 11 digs apiece as well.
Arizona used an early 3-0 run to take the lead 7-4 in the opening set. The Wildcats maintained the three point lead until they turned a 10-7 advantage into a 14-7 lead after a 4-0 run. Arizona stayed in control throughout the remaining of the set as they won comfortably, 25-13. Kingdon and Taylor Arizobal led the offense with three kills apiece, while Kingdon led the defense with seven digs. Nicholson did not have to wait long to break the digs record as she got her first dig early in the set. Arizona hit .276 in the set, while its defense held UCSB to a -.075 hitting percentage.
The Wildcats got off to a quick start in the second set as they jumped out to an 8-3 lead. The Gauchos eventually chipped away and evened the score at 10-10. After some back and forth play, Arizona took a 23-21 lead, which forced a UCSB timeout. Following the break, the Gauchos took the next two points to even the score at 23-23. The Wildcats had two consecutive set point opportunities, but UCSB managed to extend the set. With the score tied 25-25, a Katey Thompson kill gave UC Santa Barbara its first set point opportunity, which forced an Arizona timeout. Following the timeout, Croson’s attack attempt was controversially called out of bounds to give the Gauchos the set, 27-25. The Gauchos were solid offensively in the set as they hit .271, while the Wildcats hit just .146. Kingdon had six kills to lead the Arizona offense.
UCSB jumped out to an early lead and Arizona could never regain the momentum in the set as the Gauchos went on to a 25-15 victory. UC Santa Barbara hit an impressive .351 in the frame, while the Cats struggled to just .067 hitting.
The Gauchos had all the momentum as they jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the fourth set, which forced an Arizona timeout. Arizona slowly chipped away at the lead and turned a 12-12 tie into a 18-12 advantage after a 6-0 run. The Wildcats maintained the lead and forced a decisive fifth set with a 25-18 victory. Arizona hit .270 in the frame, while keeping the UCSB offense in check as it hit .000. Shaquillah Torres was impressive for the Cats offensively in the set with five kills. Arizona also out-blocked the Gauchos, 6-1.
The Wildcats jumped out to a quick 6-3 lead in the decisive fifth set, but a 3-0 run by the Gauchos tied the score. After some back and forth play, UCSB turned a 9-9 into a 12-9 advantage with a timely 3-0 run, which forced Arizona to burn its final timeout. The Gauchos maintained the three point lead and earned match point at 14-11. The Wildcats would not go away; however, as a Kingdon kill and a block by Amaro pulled Arizona to within one, forcing the Gauchos to call a timeout. After the break, Kingdon put down another kill to even the score at 14-14. Then, the Wildcats got back-to-back blocks from Amaro to complete the comeback, 16-14. Arizona had three blocks in the set with all of them coming down the stretch. Kingdon had six kills and seven digs to pace the Cats in the set.
Katey Thompson led UCSB with 15 kills, while Ali Spindt had 13 and Leah Sully added 11. Ali Santi led the Gauchos with 18 digs.
The Wildcats will open up Pac-12 play on Tuesday at in-state rival Arizona State. The match is set to being at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks.
Wildcat Classic All-Tournament Team
Madi Kingdon (MVP) – Arizona
Candace Nicholson – Arizona
Halli Amaro – Arizona
Leah Sully – UC Santa Barbara
Katey Thompson – UC Santa Barbara
Simone Reid - Loyola Maryland
Faye Lukas - Loyola Maryland
Elizabeth Buterbaugh - Wofford
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