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Arizona volleyball tries to get back on winning track vs. No. 20 UCLA

23rd-ranked Wildcats travel to LA to face the Bruins on Friday

<span data-author="62953">arizona-wildcats-volleyball-ucla-pac-12-preview </span> Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Last weekend looked promising for both the Arizona Wildcats and UCLA Bruins. Both were at home. Both were facing teams that they had good chances to beat.

Neither team had things go entirely their way, though.

The Wildcats ended up losing to both of the Washington schools, although they played a tough five-setter against Washington State on Sunday. The Bruins split their home matches against the Oregon schools, sweeping Oregon State and, in turn, getting swept by Oregon. Both teams saw their rankings fall as a result.

No. 20 UCLA (8-5, 3-3 Pac-12) will be wrapping up a four-match homestand when No. 23 Arizona (14-4, 3-3) visits on Friday, so they will be looking to protect their home court. The Wildcats will be attempting to kick off another difficult Pac-12 road sweep, like they did in Oregon two weeks ago.

Match outlook

Kendra Dahlke moved to eighth on the Arizona career kills list in the match against Washington State, but the weekend losses overshadowed the feat. Her 1,247 career kills just surpassed Marisa DaLee’s 1,243.

With a conference average of 4.78 kills per set, Dahlke is unlikely to exceed the 1,273 scored by Melissa Ferris for seventh place in the UCLA match. She has only scored 30 kills once this season, so she will probably leave Pauley Pavilion needing at least a few more. The question is whether the team will leave with their 15th season win.

As a team, UCLA’s strongest play is in defense and blocking, although they also allow a relatively high hitting percentage by opponents. The Bruins are No. 1 in the conference in digs and No. 6 in blocks.

The Bruins rank towards the bottom of the conference in every offensive stat. They are 10th in hitting percentage and assists, and 11th in kills and aces.

Arizona is almost a mirror opposite of UCLA. The Wildcats’ strongest stats are kills and assists, where they rank third in the PAC-12. The team is also in the top half of the conference in hitting percentage (5th) and opponent hitting percentage (4th).

The Wildcats are mid-conference in digs (6th). They have also fallen off in blocking, ranking eighth in the PAC-12. Their lowest ranking is in service aces, where they rank 10th.

If Arizona is able to go into the match at full roster strength, it will be team strength against strength. The two squads are very close in both the eyes of the AVCA voters (ULCA No. 20 vs Arizona at No. 23) and the RPI (UCLA at 28, Arizona at 38), so it will come down to whether Arizona can be as tough on the road as they were in Oregon.

Injuries

Against the Washington schools, Arizona was without Liz Shelton and Paige Whipple, both of whom were in concussion protocol. The two starters were the second and third Wildcats to miss matches with concussions this season.

“To be honest, I think we’re just lucky, but not in the best way,” Shelton said about the rash of concussions this season. “I know concussions aren’t necessarily this common in volleyball, but I think for us we’re just being found by the right balls.”

The team also played for the first half of the Washington match without Katie Smoot, who has been nursing an abdominal injury. She played the entire match against Washington State and appeared healthy.

There is hope that the team will be full strength against UCLA and USC. Assistant coach Charita Stubbs said that both Shelton and Whipple took part in practice for the first time on Tuesday morning, although neither has been cleared yet.

“I would like to play this weekend, and I am progressing towards getting back to 100% strength,” Shelton said. “However, whether they clear me or not will determine if I play.”

“[Tuesday] was my first full day doing weights, and then practice, and watching film,” she added.

Bruins to watch for

Sophomore outside hitter Mac May leads the Bruins with 3.47 kills per set on just under 10 swings per set, ranking her 10th in the conference for kills. Her best match came against Baylor, when she had 21 kills. She also averages about 0.27 service aces per set.

The Bruins have used two setters this year, and both are in the conference top 10 for assists. Junior Kylie Miller comes in at seventh with 8.88 assists per set. She’s followed immediately by her teammate, freshman Devon Chang, with 8.79 assists per set.

Madeleine Gates leads the team in blocking with an average of 1.10 per set. She is also third on the Bruins with 2.27 k/s.

Zana Muno is tops on the team in digs per set with 3.98, placing her just ahead of Arizona’s Makenna Martin at eighth in the Pac-12.

How to watch

The match will be aired live on Pac-12 Los Angeles and Pac-12 National at 7 p.m. MST on Friday evening. It can also be live streamed via UCLA Live Stream. It will not air on Pac-12 Arizona, which will carry the USC-ASU match instead.