The Ducks had beaten Washington State the last 22 times the teams met, but the Cougars turned the tables on Oregon right from the jump, taking a 12-5 lead in the first set and then breaking an 11-all tie in the second with a 10-2 run to take a two set lead into the half.
Head coach Matt Ulmer’s halftime speech must have resonated as the Ducks showed more enthusiasm and tenacity in winning the third set, leading from wire-to-wire. Senior outside hitter Taylor Agost was a force, collecting ten kills on her way to a team leading and career high 25.
And the Ducks had plenty of opportunities to send the game to a fifth set before wasting a pair of set points to give the match to the Cougars.
“The inconsistent effort, the inconsistent engagement is something I’m still trying to figure out why that happens for us. That’s probably the most frustrating part,” said Ulmer.
“Any time a team comes into your home and outworks you, that’s never a good feeling, and I thought Washington State did that for most of the match. We battled back and did a lot of good things in the third and fourth, and then I don’t know why but we get fearful in crunch time or when the pressure is on.”
Washington State out-hit the Ducks .329 to .269 and often found a soft Duck defense with a short tip rather than attempt to power through the Oregon block.
“Definitely, it was a game plan for them, said Ulmer. “We are not a defensive-minded team, it’s something we don’t like to do … we are not doing a good job of being disciplined enough to go pick up a lot of those balls.”
With the loss Oregon’s record is 16-9 overall and 9-8 in conference play. Washington State improved to 16-13, 5-12.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Ducks with 10th ranked Washington to visit on Sunday followed by 14th-ranked USC for Wednesday’s home season finale. Sunday’s match is set to begin at 1:00 pm and will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
~ Rick Morgan