The Arizona Wildcats have gotten so close in so many Pac-12 matches. Dropping matches they were up 2-0. Losing close sets. Those heartbreaks were over as they finally broke through on Sunday afternoon against No. 22 Washington State with a 3-1 victory (25-22, 20-25, 25-15, 25-23).
The Wildcats were led by Paige Whipple who had a career-high 29 kills on .299 hitting. She added three assists, nine digs, a block and an ace. She had 30.5 points, almost double the points of the next-closest player, the Cougars’ Pia Timmer (17).
Katie Smoot added 14 kills on .235 hitting. Devyn Cross contributed seven kills and six blocks.
Setter Julia Patterson continued building her reputation as the top attacking setter in the conference, pushed into action by the Wildcats’ many injuries. Patterson had another double-double with 45 assists and 14 digs, but she also added five kills and three blocks. She hit .417 for the match.
Arizona didn’t get any of their injured bigs back for the match, but they did add some depth. Defensive specialist Erin Williamson was back as a serve specialist after spending weeks on the sidelines with mononucleosis.
The two teams played a close first set, but the Cougars were finally able to build a three-point lead at 17-14. The Wildcats fought back, tying it up twice before taking control at 19-all. Arizona took the one-set lead on a 6-3 run to close things out.
The Wildcats built their own lead early in the second set, but they couldn’t hold it. Memories of Friday’s match against No. 10 Washington came to mind when the Cougars took a 19-14 lead. Arizona closed it to 21-19, but that’s as close as they could get as Washington State evened the match with a 25-20 set.
At this point on Friday night, Arizona went away. Washington ran away with that match in the final two sets. Arizona coach Dave Rubio always says that Sunday afternoon matches are different than Friday evening matches, though, and the Wildcats proved that against Washington State.
It was Arizona that dominated the third set, running out to a 13-2 lead. The Wildcats hit 20 before the Cougars hit 10, evenutally building a 13-point lead at 21-8. Washington State put together a four-point run of their own, but couldn’t get any closer than nine points.
Arizona was one set away from the upset with a 25-15 victory in the third. For the first time this season, they were able to close it.
The final set was closer—Arizona never led by more than five—but Washington State couldn’t gain the advantage. The Wildcats got the first point of the set, and the final tie was at 2-2.
When the Cougars’ Alexcis Lusby made the final attack error, Arizona had their first top-25 win of the season. The Wildcats move to 15-15 on the season and 5-13 in conference. Washington State is now 22-8 overall and 11-7 in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats can end the season with a winning record with victories over UCLA and ASU next week. Considering the obstacles of the season, it would be an accomplishment.