The shorthanded Arizona Wildcats (14-6, 3-5 Pac-12) showed heart against USC (14-5, 6-2 Pac-12) on Sunday afternoon.
What they didn’t have was a healthy team.
Glaring holes in the Arizona rotation ended up being key to the 25-18, 22-25, 25-17, 25-16 victory by the Trojans.
On Tuesday, Arizona middle blocker Liz Shelton said the team’s concussion issues were just a matter of them being “lucky, but not in a good way.”
During Friday’s match against UCLA, the streak of bad luck continued. Kendra Dahlke, who leads the conference in kills, sustained a concussion during the first set.
Dahlke played the rest of the match against UCLA, although she had single-digit kills for the first time this season. By Sunday, though, she had been taken out of the lineup, forcing the team to face USC without her and Shelton.
In the absence of one of the best outside hitters in women’s college volleyball, the Wildcats relied on sophomores Katie Smoot, Paige Whipple and Candice Denny to do the heavy lifting. They answered the call.
Smoot led Arizona with 13 kills on 32 attacks. It was her first match with double-digit kills this season. The 3.25 kills per set were well over her season average of 1.19. Her .219 hitting percentage also outpaced her season average of .184. Smoot threw in two blocks, as well, giving her a season-high 14.5 points for the match.
Whipple and Denny each contributed 11 kills for the match. Denny had only four errors on her 24 attacks, hitting .292 for the match. She ended with 12.0 points on the day.
On the downside, Whipple struggled with ball control errors all afternoon. She ended up with four receiving errors, with USC spending much of the afternoon targeting her with the serve.
Whipple also had 10 hitting errors on 36 attacks and one blocking error. She still ended with 12.0 points, trailing only Smoot for the Wildcats.
USC also had three players with double-digit kills. The difference was that Emily Baptista and Brooke Botkin had 15 and 19, respectively, while each hitting well over .400. Khalia Lanier added 11 kills for the Trojans
Hitting percentage told the tale of the match. In the three sets Arizona lost it was outhit by more than 175 percentage points.
USC outhit Arizona .500-.171 in the first set. In the third set, the Wildcats were outhit .207-.026. USC had an astonishing .700 hitting percentage in the final set compared to .233 for Arizona.
The Wildcats will return to McKale Center to face Colorado and Utah next weekend. Arizona will be trying to end a four-match losing streak.