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UCLA hands Arizona volleyball another frustrating 4-set loss

arizona-wildcats-volleyball-ucla-frustrating-four-set-loss-recap-analysis Photo by Ary Frank / Arizona Athletics

When Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio is asked how he feels after a match lately, the first word he uses is “frustrated.” That was the case again as the Wildcats lost to UCLA in four sets (25-21, 25-15, 24-26, 25-18) at Pauley Pavilion on Friday evening.

As was the case last Friday against Oregon, Rubio opted to hold out junior outside hitter/opposite Sofia Maldonado Diaz in favor of freshman Lauren Rumel in the starting lineup. Last week, he said the reason was analytics gathered in practice. This time?

“Same reason,” Rubio said.

Maldonado Diaz responded against the Ducks with her best game of the season. Against the Bruins, she still led the Wildcats in kills with 13, but she only hit .111 due to nine errors. Maldonado Diaz also had two service errors. On the positive side, she also had three assists, six digs, and one total block while leading the team with 13.5 points.

Starting left-side hitter Jaelyn Hodge paced Arizona on offense. She had 12 kills on .310 hitting, but Hodge had her struggles, too. While she had one total block, an assist, and seven digs, she also committed two service errors and three receiving errors.

Service errors and receiving errors were the problems Rubio talked about on Wednesday before the team left for Los Angeles. He believes those areas are what keep the Wildcats from being able to defeat the teams ahead of them in the standings.

As a team, Arizona committed 10 service errors and 10 receiving errors. On the other side of the net, UCLA committed eight service errors and six receiving errors while acing the Wildcats 10 times.

The Wildcats also allowed the Bruins to hit a far higher percentage than other recent opponents. The past six opponents have hit .234 against Arizona, and Pac-12 opponents are hitting .255 against the Wildcats over the course of the entire conference season. Last Friday, UA held Oregon to .188 hitting over four sets. Just one week later, UCLA ended with a .328 hitting percentage.

“I think that UCLA is an extremely talented team and certainly playing on their home floor,” Rubio said. “Frustrated that we had plenty of opportunities to take set one and just couldn’t seem to execute well enough at the end of that set. Called a timeout, I think it was...19-20, and then we end up losing 25-21. And that really came down to serving and passing. Really, our passing and lack of passing. Got aced 10 times and that doesn’t account for all the errant balls that we weren’t able to set anybody other than one hitter.”

UCLA made short work of Arizona in the second set, running away with a 25-15 set that put the Wildcats on the edge of elimination. They responded in the third set, but it was a real fight.

The two teams traded the lead with Arizona leading by two early and UCLA leading by two in the middle of the set. The Wildcats eventually built a 23-20 lead, but it still wasn’t enough to put the Bruins away.

UCLA went on a 4-0 run to reach match point. A kill by Maldonado Diaz erased it. Setter Emery Herman stepped to the line and served twice to finally get the Wildcats the set.

Arizona looked to have momentum in the fourth set. A 6-2 lead worried UCLA enough that Bruins head coach Michael Sealy took a timeout. It got the Bruins back on track, sending them on a 6-0 run that gave them the 8-6 lead.

UCLA never trailed again. Arizona was able to tie the match at 16-16 but only scored two more points after that.

The Wildcats take on USC at 3 p.m. MST on Sunday, Nov. 7.