As the season winds toward its close, Arizona volleyball (14-11, 6-8 Pac-12) is still searching for a few more high-RPI wins to help them get to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, they would likely have been on their way had it been a normal 64-team field, but the 48-team group limited the Pac-12 to five representatives. This year, they are battling against a conference where all the upper-level teams except Stanford have at least one super senior that carries them. They didn’t need another obstacle, but they got one.
The Wildcats’ Friday match against Utah is being held at 3 p.m. MST. A Friday match that isn’t televised is usually held at 6 p.m. to allow fans to arrive after work. This week, it was moved to mid-afternoon to accommodate a 7 p.m. men’s basketball game against Texas-Rio Grande Valley. The Vaqueros have the dubious distinction of being one of 45 men’s basketball teams that have never appeared in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s the second time this week that a women’s event has been held at an unusual time in order to stage a “doubleheader” that can actively hinder the women. On Tuesday, women’s basketball had its home opener at 5 p.m. for the same reason. The team was able to draw 6,154 fans to a game held when many people are just getting off work, but it’s not difficult to imagine that the crowd would have been even bigger if they played at a normal time. For volleyball, the effect will be even larger with the match held hours before people are off work. Even a 5 p.m. start might allow for a bigger crowd.
The scheduling becomes an even bigger issue when considering what is happening with the biggest women’s sport on campus. Arizona women’s basketball will tip off against No. 6 Louisville in South Dakota at 2:30 p.m. MST. Many fans of Arizona women’s sports will likely be home watching that Top 25 matchup.
The discussion is not purely academic. The Wildcats need a win over Utah on Friday. The Utes stand at No. 21 in RPI. With Stanford having dropped to No. 30 since its losses to Arizona and ASU, it would be the Wildcats’ biggest win in the realm of RPI. A proper home-court advantage would really help considering that Arizona is 11-4 in McKale Center and 4-5 on the road. Head coach Dave Rubio doesn’t believe the Wildcats will have one this Friday.
What that means is that the young team that Arizona runs out on the floor will need to find the emotional and competitive consistency that they've had trouble with all season—and they will need to find it within themselves. If things go south, which they absolutely can against a team featuring a super senior with the talent of Dani Drews, the Wildcats’ freshman and sophomore pins will need to find their own energy.
Arizona will have their usual noon start time on Sunday when they face Colorado. Early in the season, that would have offered the chance at a big RPI win. Since the Buffs lost their super senior Leah Clayton to suspension, they have plunged to No. 48 in RPI and dropped out of the AVCA rankings.
If they hope to keep their dwindling NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the Wildcats will need to find it within themselves to get a sweep this weekend. There are just four games to play after these two matches.
Arizona lost to Utah in straight sets on the visit to Salt Lake City. It was two days after a nightmare trip to Boulder that featured canceled flights, an early-morning drive to Phoenix, and Arizona arriving at their hotel just hours before the match. Despite the difficult weekend, the Wildcats managed to keep the sets fairly close in a 25-19, 25-18, 25-21 Utah win. It was enough to suggest that they might have a chance with a proper home-court advantage. Now, they need to find a way without a normal home routine and, likely, a normal home crowd.
Utah Utes (16-7, 9-5 Pac-12)
Date and time: Friday, Nov. 12 at 3 p.m. MST
Location: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
AVCA ranking, RPI & Pac-12 standings: The Utes are ranked No. 16 in the AVCA poll. They aren’t far behind in RPI where they stand at No. 21. They are currently tied with Oregon for fourth in the Pac-12 standings just three spots above Arizona, which is tied for seventh.
Rubio says: “Utah is certainly one of the top teams. Every team that’s above us...I think that you got to deal with some pretty talented players. Dani Drews is one of the best, probably, top three players in the conference. And then they’re older too. They have a senior setter that’s a graduate player. So they’re really, really good. They went five with UCLA and they beat USC last week, and they beat Washington earlier in the season. So they’re right in the hunt.”
Colorado Buffaloes (14-9, 5-9 Pac-12)
Date and time: Sunday, Nov. 14 at 12 p.m. MST
Location: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
AVCA ranking, RPI & Pac-12 standings: The Buffs aren’t ranked in the AVCA poll, but they are No. 48 in RPI. That RPI is largely reliant on their early-season success before the suspension of Clayton because they are 10th in the Pac-12.
Rubio says: “Colorado is the team that we beat up there, and they’ve been playing significantly better (since then), as well. I mean, they had Oregon down. They lost to Oregon 19-17, and Oregon has been one of the top teams in the conference, as well. So the next six matches are going to give us everything that we want. Probably things that we don’t want.”