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Commentary: Winning at home a must

By Brian Penso

Wednesday October 3, 2001

Leaving the luxuries of playing at home - sleeping in your own bed, eating at your favorite restaurants and being with friends - is hard enough.

But when a road trip brings you to South Central Los Angeles to take on the No. 3 USC, things couldn't be any worse.

It's not because of the neighborhood - USC's campus is nice enough - but rather it's the loud fans who fill the Lyon Center during every game.

Arizona got a first-hand feeling of what it is like to play at USC's home court this past weekend.

The Lyon Center is no McKale Center.

The Lyon Center holds only 1,200 people, while McKale Center holds 14,545 but only has 1,200 people in attendance.

The main difference is that the Lyon Center is always packed and very loud - especially when Arizona, UCLA or Stanford are in town.

Besides a hostile crowd, the USC band plays during the entire match, and we all know how annoying the "Spirit of Troy" can be.

During last Saturday's match against UA, the band drowned out the few Arizona fans who traveled to Los Angeles to cheer on the Wildcats.

"Each Pac-10 gym is going to be tough," junior middle blocker Stefani Saragosa said. "When you walk in the gym, you are going to be faced with a hostile environment. You just have to take your game to the next level and take it from there."

Then comes the challenge of playing the opponent across the net.

The Pacific 10 Conference is the elite volleyball conference in the nation with four of the best teams in country.

The USA Today/AVCA poll ranks USC third with No.4 Stanford and No. 5 UCLA in tow.

Two weeks ago, Arizona was the third-ranked team in the nation, but its recent road trip to Los Angeles awakened the Wildcats to life away from McKale.

The Wildcats were swept by USC and UCLA, and dropped to seventh in the nation in this week's poll.

"Defending home court is critical in our conference," UA head coach Dave Rubio said. "It is so important to defend the home court when you have to play the nation's elite teams on the road."

USC head coach Mike Haley said playing on the road against quality opponents like Stanford, Arizona and UCLA will be one of the biggest challenges the Trojans will face all season.

"Playing on the road in the Pac-10 is very difficult," Haley said. "All I can say is that you better be careful on the road. We pride ourselves on playing tough volleyball and playing at home is such an advantage. It will be a challenge for us to go up to Tucson and take on the Wildcats."

With the Wildcats gearing up for another run at a Pac-10 title, Rubio said losing both games in Los Angeles puts more pressure on his team to defend its home court when the Bruins and Trojans come to Tucson later in the month.

UCLA'S All-American outside hitter Kristee Porter agreed.

"Going to Arizona is always a tough place to play," Porter said. "They are going to come out after us, and it is going to be a tough trip for our team."

Arizona All-American setter Dana Burkholder said that the team realizes the importance of defending its home court and that Arizona is ready for any team that walks through McKale's locker room doors.

Hopefully, UA's fans will be as waiting.


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