When Oregon played No. 1 UCLA and No. 4 USC earlier this season, Duck coach Jim Moore called the matches “as good of volleyball as I had ever seen in my career.” Although Oregon lost both road contests 3-1, Moore was happy with his team’s execution and effort.
This weekend, the Ducks will again face their Southern Californian rivals, who are now tied for first place in the Pac-12. Oregon hopes to execute at a comparably high level, but achieve a different result.
“I say we just do the same thing again,” Duck outside hitter Katherine Fischer said. “Be a little bit smarter, make better choices but pretty much the same thing. We just have to keep fighting every point like we did and hope for the best.”
Doing that won’t be easy, particularly on Friday against the nation’s top-ranked team. While not featuring as many explosive athletes as USC, the Bruins (22-3, 15-2 Pac-12) excel in several phases of the game. UCLA ranks in the top-three in the Pac-12 in hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage, assists and kills.
The Bruins’ offense is fueled by precision, passing and serving.
“They’re the best serving and passing team in the country,” Oregon head coach Jim Moore said. “They work extremely hard and they’re extremely disciplined. They have enough hitters that can put the ball on the floor and they are what they are.”
To defeat UCLA, Oregon will have to beat the Bruins at their own game.
“We’re going to have to out-serve and pass UCLA,” Moore said. “We’re a good serving and passing team but they have been more consistent than us this year. In order for us to beat UCLA, to have any chance to beat them, we’re going to have to out-serve and pass them.”
The Trojans (20-4, 15-2 Pac-12) pose an equally challenging test. USC is a dynamic offensive squad that leads the conference in hitting percentage, assists and kills. Outside hitter Alex Jupiter ranks fourth in the conference in kills per set and first in service aces per set. She’s just one of five Trojan hitters who have tallied 120 or more kills this season.
“USC’s physically the most talented team; Jupiter is probably the most talented athlete right now in college volleyball,” Moore said. “They’re senior-laden. They’re experienced, they’re picked to win it and they’re really, really good.”
Oregon hopes to take advantage of USC’s defense, which although strong, doesn’t match the team’s offensive proficiency.
“We’ll have to attack them and try to pull apart their defense and blocking,” Fischer said.
The Ducks are confident they can execute their game plan.
“We’re going to be fine this weekend,” Duck middle blocker Ariana Williams said.
Brenner earns freshman honor
Oregon freshman Liz Brenner earned Freshman of the Week honors in the Pac-12 after tallying a career-high nine kills in the Ducks’ win over Arizona State last weekend. The award was a long time coming for Brenner, who has performed like one of the conference’s top newcomers since the beginning of Oregon’s season.
“About time,” Moore said. “It should have happened on the first week, my gosh, she hit (.579) against Penn State at Penn State. It’s long overdue for Liz. In so many ways it’s good. She has gotten so much better over the past couple pf weeks.”
USC game time changed
To avoid a conflict with the Stanford/Oregon football game, Oregon’s athletic department announced a time change for Saturday’s volleyball match with No. 4 USC. The game, which was originally scheduled for 7 p.m., will begin at 8:30 p.m.
Additionally, fans will be admitted to Matthew Knight Arena at 4:30 p.m. to watch the football game in the arena. Students can get in for free with their Oregon ID cards, fans with their volleyball game ticket.