By Ron Parsons
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Arizona women's volleyball team heads to Los Angeles this weekend for two conference matches against UCLA and Southern Cal.
Tonight, the 12th-ranked Wildcats take on No. 9 UCLA (9-4) at 7 in the Wooden Center. Tomorrow, Arizona (12-3) faces No. 18 USC (7-4) at 7 p.m. in the Lyon Center.
The Pacific 10 Conference matches are critical for all teams involved. Arizona, USC, UCLA and Arizona State, which also plays the Los Angeles schools this weekend, are all 4-3 in conference play. The four teams are tied for fourth.
Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said that in light of the competition, a split might be a good result.
"If we can walk out of there 1-1, we'd probably be happy," Rubio said.
The Wildcats will have their work cut out for them tonight against the Bruins, who hold a 32-3 series advantage over Arizona, dating to 1978. UCLA has won all 17 home matches.
"They're a very good team with a lot of history and tradition going for them," Rubio said.
The Bruins are coming off a split of their own. Last Friday, UCLA lost to crosstown rival USC in a five-set match. The victory over the Bruins was USC's first in over eight years. UCLA rebounded for a 3-1 victory over then-No. 9 Long Beach State a day later.
UCLA is led by middle blocker Kim Krull and setter Kelly Flannigan, both juniors. Flannigan leads the NCAA in assists average with 13.78 per game. Krull is eighth in the Pac-10 in kill average (4.25 per game) and fifth in block average (1.4).
A testament to both players' abilities is that they were selected as the Pac-10 players of the week earlier in the season.
"Kim has been playing very well for us," UCLA head coach Andy Banachowski said. "We've been trying to force the ball to her and she's responded very well."
Despite the series lead, Banachowski said his team will not be overlooking the UA. Although UCLA took all four meetings last season, Arizona pushed them to five sets in each match.
"I don't think we can key on any one player," Banachowski said. "(Arizona) has a balanced attack. We've got a lot of respect for them."
Things don't get any easier for the Wildcats tomorrow when they take on USC. The Trojans are coming off last week's upset of UCLA and are in the midst of a five-match winning streak.
Included in the streak are four straight conference wins. The Trojans opened the Pac-10 season with three losses but have since found their form.
The Trojans are led by senior outside hitter Kelly Kuebler, last week's Pac-10 player of the week. The second-team All American posted 14 kills and 15 digs against the Bruins last week. Two days earlier Kuebler, a member of the 1995 World University Games squad, hit 15 kills and added 20 digs in a win over Pepperdine.
"Kelly Kuebler is someone you always have to contend with," Rubio said.
To counter Kuebler's presence Rubio said his middle blockers ü sophomore Stephanie Venne and junior Laura Reckmeyer ü will have to play well.
The Wildcats will also be relying on junior outside hitter Barb Bell, who said that if the Wildcats play well they could do better than just split the two matches.
"I think we know that we're the underdogs again," she said. "But we're just going to keep fighting and hopefully come out with two wins."
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