Arizona coach Dave Rubio wasn’t happy after the loss to No. 15 Washington Friday night. His Wildcats certainly responded to the charges of lack of effort that he made after that match. They opened against No. 22 Washington State looking much more like the team that had swept the Oregon schools last weekend.
The question was whether they would end the match the same way. That turned out to be a tougher proposition, with the Wildcats building a two-set lead only to get swept on the back end, losing 2-3 (25-20, 25-22, 23-25, 20-25, 13-15).
“I think we played really well the first two-and-a-half sets,” said junior setter Julia Patterson. “I thought we were very clean and efficient. But once we got that big lead and they called a couple timeouts, we got a little less comfortable.”
Rubio made some changes to his starting lineup that seemed to pay off early. Katie Smoot returned after sitting out the Oregon matches and playing only the last half of the match against the Huskies. Smoot had nine kills, two service aces, and three solo blocks for 14.0 points on the day.
Rubio also inserted freshman defensive specialist Malina Kalei Ua into the starting six. With Arizona’s struggles digging the ball on Friday, the second start for Ua seemed to have a positive effect. By 18-14 in the first set, the Wildcats already had as many digs as they did well into the second set on Friday. Three of those were by Ua, who trailed only Arizona libero Makenna Martin in the stat in the first set.
Kendra Dahlke and Patterson were the only Wildcats who put up their usual numbers on Friday. The rest of the team returned to their typical play on Sunday.
The Wildcats led wire-to-wire in the first set. Washington State’s first lead didn’t come until 2-1 in the second set, and was never more than three points. The Wildcats tied it up at 20-all, ending the set on a 5-2 run to go up two sets to none.
The third set was a mirror image of the second, with Arizona taking the early lead and holding it through most of the set. The Cougars tied it at 19-19, ending the set on a 6-4 run to extend the match.
The fourth was a tight set until halfway through. At 12-12, the Cougars started to pull away. They outscored the Wildcats 13-8 the rest of the way to push it to a winner-take-all fifth.
A match that seemed all but over in the third would end with the 15-point set. That set was controlled by the Cougars from the start. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead before Rubio was forced to call the timeout.
The Cougars kept the lead, with the Wildcats struggling to string together points, until Arizona put together a 3-0 run to tie it up at 13. Washington State regrouped, winning the last two points to put an end to the comeback and win the match.
Even with the loss, Rubio was much happier with the play of his team on Sunday.
“I thought we were much better,” he said. “I knew we would play better today, and we did. That’s a much harder match-up for us. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t play like this against Washington.
“I thought we had a really good practice yesterday, and a good plan against these guys. It’s a touch match-up for us, like I said the other day. They’re just physically so much bigger than we are, especially on the pins. But, considering that we have two starters out and we’re trying to find some kind of semblance of some offense, I thought we did really, really well.”
Dahlke led the Wildcats with 23 kills. She also had 13 digs, four total blocks, and one service ace. Altogether, Dahlke had 27.5 points on the day.
She was followed in kills by Devyn Cross, who had 14 kills on a .545 hitting percentage. Cross also had three blocks and 15.5 points for the Wildcats.
Patterson had a productive day with 51 assists to go along with four kills and 12 digs.
The Cougars had three players with double-digit kills led by McKenna Woodford with 18. Taylor Mims and Ella Lajos contributed 17 each.
The Wildcats travel to Los Angeles next week to face USC and UCLA. It will be the third straight weekend they play two ranked teams.