Women's volleyball to host decisive conference matches against UCLA, Southern Cal

By Ron Parsons

Arizona Daily Wildcat

With just five regular season matches remaining, the 21st-ranked Arizona women's volleyball team hosts a pair of critical Pacific 10 Conference matches this weekend against the Los Angeles schools.

Arizona faces No. 17 Southern Cal (12-7 overall, 9-6 in the Pac-10) Friday at 7 p.m. After a day off, the Wildcats play No. 11 UCLA (16-6, 9-5) Sunday at 1 p.m. Both matches are at McKale Center.

At 14-9 overall and 6-9 in the conference, Arizona likely needs to win at least three of its last five matches to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament in December.

The Wildcats, who are 2-6 in their last eight games, close the Pac-10 season next week against Arizona State, then travel to Hawaii for a pair of matches against the No. 3 Rainbows.

Head coach Dave Rubio said if Arizona wins two of the Pac-10 matches and can upset Hawaii once, it should receive its third straight NCAA bid.

"Both are daunting tasks, but (making the tournament) is something we're certainly capable of doing," he said.

Junior outside hitter Barb Bell, who leads Arizona in kills (397) and kills per game (4.61), said the team knows what it has to do to get to the tournament.

"If we win two of the next three (conference games), I think we have a really good shot of going," she said. "That's what we work for all season. I think everyone's on a mission and we're going to try to go through with it."

Standing in the way, however, are USC and UCLA. The Bruins, winners of six straight matches, are third in the conference standings. The Trojans are fourth. Both teams defeated the Wildcats earlier in the season.

"We're looking to sweep. Looking at them physically, we can beat them," Bell said. "It's just a matter of who's going to be more prepared and who's going to be more mentally tough."

The Trojans, who lost to UCLA last week but defeated San Diego State, are led by outside hitter Kelly Kuebler.

"USC is a good team, but they're not overpowering. They're not overwhelming," Rubio said. "They're real steady, they don't make a lot of errors, and they have a couple of kids who can terminate the ball on a regular basis.

UCLA, while still a legitimate conference and national power, is not the dominant team it once was. The Bruins, at 9-5 in the conference, are in unfamiliar territory: third place in the conference.

"For UCLA to lose five conference games is a pretty big deal," Rubio said. "The only way you can beat UCLA is is to out-ball control them. You've got to be able to tactically do some things against them that's going to force them to handle the ball."

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