Grasping a 2-1 game advantage, the No. 24 Arizona State women’s volleyball team was in position to take down No. 1 ranked USC, before the Trojans outscored it 40-24 in winning the final two sets of Sunday’s home finale at Wells Fargo Arena. It was the third time in the last four matches that ASU (19-10, 8-10 Pacific-12) had dropped a five-game affair, as it creeps on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, while USC (29-1, 17-1) is poised to be the favorite to win its fourth national title and first since 2003.
“This team, one of things that’s hard is to be good for a long period of time,” ASU coach Jason Watson said, “but we’re managing to get better as the season progresses. The unfortunate thing is we’re running out of season. This weekend (same result with No. 11 UCLA Friday), we proved more importantly to each other, that there is still life in us, they haven’t given up.”
The Sun Devils were able to win the opening set, 25-21, with consecutive kills from Whitney Follette and a Cassidy Pickrell ace creating an 18-14 lead. ASU did hold an early five-point lead, as well, before Samantha Bricio scored four of five points, culminating with back-to-back aces to tie it at 12-12. The second was tied at 16-16, and USC knocked down nine of the last 14 to win 25-21 on a Bricio kill. The reverse happened in the third, as the Sun Devils recorded 10 of the final 13 to run away from a 15-15 knot and to a 25-18 win. BreElle Bailey executed the 23rd and 24th points, and a USC service error put ASU with an opportunity for the upset of the season.
The Trojans took a commanding lead in the fourth and cruised to a 25-14 victory. USC again jumped in front in the fifth, 12-5, with Brittany Abercrombie scoring consecutively. ASU cut it down to 13-9, Bricio scored, Bailey saved one match point, and Bricio nailed the final point, 15-10.
Celebrating her 21st birthday Sunday, Bricio, the Player of the Year candidate from Guadalajara, Mexico, recorded 24 kills, with Abercrombie adding 12 and Baylee Johnson having 35 assists for USC. Bailey led ASU with 18 kills, and Follette had 12.
“We stayed really composed,” Follette said. “I felt that vibe before we hit the court. We took it one point at a time, we didn’t have to be great, we just had to be good over time. We can’t control what we can’t do, each team has its own weapons. If we executed what we do best, we could hang with them.”
In her final game at Tempe, senior Bianca Arellano had 25 assists, Kylie Pickrell added 19, Lexi MacLean blocked four, and Halle Harker recorded 23 digs for the Sun Devils.
“It’s part of volleyball,” Harker said. “If you respond well, good things are going to happen. Every team we look at the same, we don’t treat any team differently. Mentally, it’s really tough, you know she’s (Bricio) this great player, but we handled her as well as we could have.”
The final two regular season games for ASU are at Oregon Wednesday and at No. 23 Arizona Friday, before its No. 32 RPI is judged by the selection committee. The Wildcats (18-12, 8-10) defeated No. 11 UCLA in five sets Sunday in Tucson, but post an RPI of No. 50. USC’s final two games will be at home versus the Bruins Wednesday and California Friday. Its only loss this season was Oct. 30 at No. 2 Washington in straight sets.