It’s been a tough opening four weeks for the Arizona Wildcats.
Cobbling together a lineup around injuries while playing six of eight matches on the road has left them in a 1-7 hole in Pac-12 play. As they finally return home, they can at least take solace in the fact they are capable of pushing a top-10 team even while playing a 5-foot-7 libero at outside hitter.
The Wildcats (11-9, 1-7) struggled against their own slow starts and the power of Washington (15-3, 6-2) on Sunday, but mounted their own runs in three of the four sets to avoid the straight-set loss. The Huskies eventually closed out the match for a 3-1 (25-23, 25-14, 21-25, 25-18) victory.
Furious defense was the order of the day for Arizona. The Wildcats had 84 digs in the match, including 29 by libero Emi Pua’a. Setter Julia Patterson and stand-in outside hitter Kamaile Hiapo had 16 and 15, respectively. Katie Smoot and Paige Whipple each threw in 8 digs each.
It wasn’t enough to overcome the errors that have plagued the Wildcats throughout conference play, though. The team hit just .080, and only middle blocker Devyn Cross (.385) and Hiapo (.158) had hitting percentages over .150.
While Whipple led Arizona with 14 kills, she also had 10 attack errors. Smoot matched her 10 kills with 10 errors. Cross was third on the team with 6 kills against 1 error, and Hiapo had 5 kills with 2 errors.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, the Huskies have had their own problems with efficiency. The home team hit .192. They also threw in 11 service errors against just four for Arizona.
The difference was that Washington’s biggest offensive weapon—senior Kara Bajema—wasn’t one of those dragging down the percentages. She hit .300 with 19 kills on the day. She added 17 digs for a massive double-double.
The Huskies also won on the block, where they put up 13.5 blocks to eight by the Wildcats. Washington’s Avie Niece led the match with 7 total blocks. On Arizona’s side, Cross and Zyonna Fellows each had 4 total blocks, while Patterson and Whipple each contributed three.
Set one started out as a battle until the teams tied it up at 7-7. Washington asserted itself with a 7-1 run that put Arizona in a six-point hole. When the score hit 21-13 in the Huskies’ favor, it looked like it was going to be a long day for the Wildcats.
Then, Arizona put together their own 7-0 run to make it a one-point set at 21-20. They just couldn’t get over the hump. The two teams traded points until the Huskies finally took the 1-0 lead by a score of 25-23.
The close loss appeared to have taken the wind out of Arizona’s sails. Washington opened the second set with a five-point run. Later in the set, they had a six-point run. The Wildcats had a single run of three points, and couldn’t keep contact in the 25-14 Huskies’ victory.
Already dealing with a 0-2 deficit, Arizona appeared to be going away when Washington opened up the third on a 7-0 run. It was the second straight set that the Huskies had opened with at least five straight points, and the first time didn’t end so well for the Wildcats.
They didn’t collapse, though. Instead, Arizona chipped away at the lead, then eventually found its way.
A 9-0 run gave Arizona the 19-15 lead in the set. Washington made it a one-point set at 20-19, but the Wildcats responded again. They closed out the set on a 5-2 run, pushing it to a fourth.
Early in the fourth, neither team could get any separation. The Wildcats built a slight lead in the middle of the set, but at 16 points apiece, the Huskies finally took control. Arizona scored only two more points in the match as Washington closed it out with a 25-18 victory.
Arizona will return to McKale Center next week to face Oregon State (8-10, 2-5) and Oregon (6-10, 2-5). It will be only their second homestand in conference play.