Arizona volleyball looks to flip the script vs. ranked opponents at USC and UCLA

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Tyler Baker | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona volleyball player McKenzie Jacobson spikes the ball against USC on Wednesday, November 26, 2015. The Wildcats will look to swing their luck against ranked opponents this weekend in Southern California. 

Arizona women’s volleyball has a tough weekend in front of them, facing two ranked division foes. The Wildcats are traveling to Los Angeles to play USC on Friday and UCLA on Sunday.

The Wildcats head to California having split a home series with the Oregon schools last weekend. Arizona—a team that struggles against ranked opponents—will try to shake off a four-set home loss to No. 21 Oregon on Saturday.

“I thought at times that we played well,” said Arizona head coach Dave Rubio per Arizona Athletics. “I am frustrated that we didn’t play well at all of the right moments. I felt like we were playing from behind a lot in this particular game. The thing that we know is that we have got to be very good at the service line and tonight, we weren’t. They were better than we were. Our serve receive wasn’t that sharp and so that hurts us. Until we can get our full lineup back, it is going to be a little harder for us to score against the upper-level teams in the conference.”

Senior outside hitter Kalei Mau’s return from a back injury certainly played a factor in the Wildcats’ victory over Oregon State last Friday.

“After being down for two weeks, we were very lucky Kalei was able to play at least front row,” Rubio said following the victory over the Beavers. “She was a big reason we were able to play as well as we did, especially offensively.”

Mau expressed how it felt to be back out on the floor after missing five matches and several more sets.

“It felt awesome,” Mau said. “It really helped me to know I still have a lot to play for. I’m out there every day giving it all I’ve got.”

RELATED: Wildcats lose to ranked Oregon in four sets

Arizona’s attention now turns to No. 22 USC and No. 18 UCLA. The USC match starts at 7 p.m. and will air on Pac-12 Networks. The Trojans had a slow start to their 2016 campaign, but have since turned their season around.

USC dropped its first three matches against unranked opponents, but have rebounded and now stand with a 10-5 record.

The Trojans are .500 at home this season, with all three of their losses coming on their home court.

Defensively, USC is second in the Pac-12 in digs per set with a 16.33 average. The Trojans’ libero Taylor Whittingham leads the defense and is the conference’s reigning Defensive Player of the Week.

USC’s reliable defense is coupled with a powerful offense to make the team a formidable opponent.

Middle blocker Elise Ruddins leads the Pac-12 with a .473 hitting percentage to give the team the edge needed to reach 10 wins.

From the Trojans, Arizona will move on to UCLA for an 11 a.m. matchup Sunday. This match will also air on Pac-12 Networks.

UCLA will enter this weekend with an 11-3 record, even after playing 12 of its first 13 matches on the road.

The Bruins’ three loses came against No. 19 Colorado, No. 10 Washington State and No. 5 San Diego, so UCLA has proven thus far that it can only be beat by the best.

The Bruins are another team with a powerful offense and sound defense.

In a full team effort, UCLA averages 18.06 digs per set, ranking the Bruins fifth nationally. With five hitters averaging more than two kills per set, UCLA also leads the Pac-12 in kills.

The Wildcats hope to debut their ideal starting lineup this weekend in Los Angeles. Both Kendra Dahlke—who underwent concussion protocol—and Kalei Mau—who just returned to the lineup—are expected to start on Friday.

The last time this Wildcats squad took on UCLA—in November 2015—it defeated the then-No. 11 Bruins in a five-set showdown in McKale Center.

The Pac-12 is filled with talent this year. Seven of the 12 teams are ranked in the top 25, and Arizona is scheduled to face all seven of those teams this season.

With a more than tough road ahead, the Wildcats are looking for at least a split this weekend so they can hang around in a talented conference.


Follow Nikki Baim on Twitter.



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