TEMPE — Arizona was down two sets to none to Arizona State and they couldn’t buy a serve. Error after error piled up until the Sun Devils emerged victorious in their first sweep of the Wildcats since Sept. 24, 2013. ASU won by a score of 25-20, 25-16, 25-19.
“ASU, my hat’s off to them,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said. “They really played well. Like I said (on Wednesday), they’ve got really good arms. Physically, they were just way better than we were, they were beating us up on the block. And we didn’t play well at all...it felt like we started to panic a little bit, and we just errored ourselves out of the game. And then we just kept missing serves. And you know, it was uncharacteristic type of things that we would do that we just haven’t done all year long. But part of that is when you’re panicking, and you feel like you’ve got to make it up on one particular contact. That’s what happened tonight.”
The Wildcats hit only .179 for the match, but the service issue was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the final set. Arizona committed 7 of their 12 service errors when they were already down 0-2 in the match. After falling behind 8-10 in the third set, the Wildcats managed only four successful serves for the rest of the contest. They notched only 3 service aces on the night to offset their 12 errors.
The sole bright spots for the Wildcats were the middle blockers. Devyn Cross had 7 kills on .583 hitting. Shardonee Hayes added 5 kills on .400 hitting to go with 3 blocks.
No one managed double-digit kills for the Wildcats. Elizabeth Shelton led the team with 9 kills on .353 hitting. She also added 3 blocks and led the team with 11 points.
With the Wildcats still working on their new offense, setter Julia Patterson said prior to the match that she was no longer able to rely on muscle memory during matches; she had to do a lot more thinking and decision-making. As the team struggled, Rubio did something that he rarely does: take Patterson off the court.
At the end of the second set, Rubio substituted back-up setter Hina Pua’a for his senior starter. Patterson returned for the final set, but it was one of the few times in the last three years that she has been on the sidelines when she wasn’t injured.
“I wanted to give Julia some...a little bit of rest,” he said. “You know, I think it’s good to kind of—when things kind of go south like that—you get the chance to kind of get it into perspective, watching the team function without you being there. It’s hard to do that when you’re in the moment all the time and you’re on the floor, but it’s nice to get off the floor and kind of see it.”
Despite the struggles of the team, Patterson still had a double-double with 28 assists and 10 digs. She led the Wildcats in both stats.
Wednesday morning, Rubio told the media that this ASU team was the best he had seen since Sun Devil head coach Sonja Tomasevic took over the program. The opponent lived up to that billing on Thursday night, and the Arizona coach took the blame for not having his team ready for that.
“All week, just knowing what happened in the spring and knowing the personnel that ASU had this year. I don’t think the players understood how motivated ASU would be and by no means are we ready to face a team that was that motivated,” Rubio said. “You know, a lot of that comes back on me. I mean, I didn’t prepare these guys to face a team that played as well as they did tonight, so we’ve got a little bit of soul-searching to do. Need to go back, and we don’t got much time. We’ve got to fly tomorrow to LA and then get ready for USC.”
The Wildcats fall to 10-3 on the year and 0-1 in conference play, while the Sun Devils improved to 9-3 and 1-0 in Pac-12 play. Arizona will go up against USC with both teams trying to avoid starting conference play 0-2 after losses on their rivals’ home floors.