After being blown out in the third set, the No. 22 Arizona State volleyball team rebounded to defeat No. 17 UCLA in five sets (21-25, 25-20, 16-25, 25-20, 16-14) in a must-win match for its NCAA Tournament hopes Wednesday at Tempe.
Macey Gardner recorded 20 kills for the Sun Devils (19-12, 9-10 Pacific-12), who improved to 8-6 in five-set matches this season, while Karsta Lowe led the four-time national champion Bruins (19-11, 10-9) with 24, but had 15 errors.
“That was a pretty aggressive performance by both teams and two of the marquee players in this conference,” ASU coach Jason Watson said. “As we look at postseason implications, as a potential bubble team, everything helps, and it takes a little bit of pressure off us. I’m really proud of them.”
ASU held a 20-17 lead in the opening set, but the Bruins scored eight of the last nine points, four from Lowe, and Zoe Nightingale blocked McKenzie Willey for the clincher. Willey’s kill set up a set point for the Devils in the second, 24-16, and after UCLA saved four rallies, Gardner pounded down the winner, 25-20. The Bruins scored the final six points of the third, and 12 of the final 16, capitalized with consecutive Megan Moenoa aces, to take a 25-16 win.
“I thought we were trying to be great,” Watson said. “I don’t think this is a sport that lends itself to trying to be great, we try to get them to be good and simple. On serve receive, we were forcing some things that weren’t the right thing to do. The message was to just be simple, and when we do that we play well, if not, you see things like Game Three.”
A 10-2 run gave ASU a 15-6 lead in the fourth. UCLA closed the gap to four, BreElle Bailey killed the 24th point for ASU, Claire Felix saved the first set point, and Lowe spiked the final rally straight into the net, 25-20.
Gardner brought ASU within 10-8 in the fifth, and Bailey responded to two of Lowe’s kills. Bailey and Binns (8 and 10 kills on the day, respectively) narrowed the UCLA lead to 13-12, Felix went wide to tie it at 13-13, Lowe missed the baseline, giving the match point to ASU, 14-13, and UCLA coach Michael Sealy called a timeout. Felix redeemed herself with the tying kill, Binns scored, and Gardner smacked the winner in the center of the Bruins’ zone.
“We just learned over the course of the season how much each point matters,” Gardner said, “so when it’s that one-point match and we have an opportunity, we have to take it. The fact that we executed when we needed to was really rewarding for us.”
Reily Buechler also had 14 kills for UCLA, Moenoa had 53 assists, and Taylor Formico notched 25 digs. Whitney Follette added 10 ASU kills, and Bianca Arellano passed 44 assists and led the team with 17 digs.
The Sun Devils conclude the regular season at 6 p.m. Friday at Wells Fargo Arena versus No. 14 Arizona, at team they bowed to in five sets back in September. The Bruins will host USC at Pauley Pavilion in their finale Friday.
“I’m pumped to play them,” said Follette, who missed the first Arizona game with appendicitis. “We’re going to prepare the same way, and I just want to treat it like every game. We need to defend the home court.”
Going into the NCAA selection process, although ranked highly in the coaches’ poll, ASU is 41st in the Ranked Percentage Index; by comparison, the Wildcats are 13th and the Bruins 17th.