(Photo: Casey Smith/WCSN)
The No. 13 Arizona State Sun Devils defeated the Colorado Buffaloes in four sets, 25-21, 8-25, 25-12, 25-23 in Tempe and moved to 6-4 in Pac-12 play.
The fourth set was not only the decisive one but also by far the most even of the match. Colorado found themselves up five, 12-7, but ASU battled back to bring the score within one forcing a timeout from Colorado head coach Liz Kritza.
Out of the timeout, ASU took the lead on a kill from junior opposite BreElle Bailey and a block from freshman middle blocker Jasmine Koonts.
The set would continue to be a back-and-forth affair with neither team leading by more than one after ASU took the lead 15-13 until the end of the set when ASU won the set 25-23.
The set had a whopping 16 ties and six lead changes. ASU won the set on a block from senior Whitney Follette, which was the 400th in her Sun Devil career.
Colorado managed the first set in the beginning as it maintained a slim lead. ASU was able to go on a run with Follete serving. Her ace, coupled with two points after long rallies, gave the Sun Devils their first lead since 1-0 at 14-13.
Colorado quickly tied the set but ASU rattled off a 6-0 run to expand the lead to 20-14. The Buffaloes would narrow the lead and fought off a couple of set points, but a kill from ASU freshman outside hitter Lexi MacLean gave the Sun Devils the first set victory 25-21.
Defense fueled the Sun Devils in the first set. They held Colorado to a .188 hitting percentage and individually held Colorado’s Gabby Simpson to just one kill in the set and a hitting percentage in the negatives. In addition, the Sun Devils had four blocks in the set and forced five errors.
Watson credited the defensive effort throughout the match.
“I thought our blocking was really, really good.” Watson said. “I was really pleased with what we did defensively.”
The second set was a much cleaner start for the Buffaloes. They quickly jumped out to a 9-0 lead until a kill from MacLean got the Sun Devils on the scoreboard.
The early lead was only made larger by an error-ridden start to the second set for the Sun Devils. The team had six errors to go along with two service errors and Watson called a timeout with his team down 17-4.
The Sun Devils ultimately scrapped together 8 points and lost the second set 25-8.
In the set, the ASU had more errors than kills. The team saw its hitting percentage drop from .242 to .085. The Sun Devils also had 3 service errors and a couple net calls as well.
The set was riddled with mental mistakes for the Sun Devils, but that doesn’t discredit the effort that Colorado made in the set. After recording five errors and hitting under .100 as a team in the first set, they raised their percentage to over .300 and only recorded one error in the set.
Arizona State came out of the break a lot smoother. The Sun Devils quickly jumped out to a 5-4 lead. ASU kept its foot on the gas, and forced Colorado Kritza to call a timeout with ASU leading 20-11.
The Sun Devils again showed how dominant they can be on defense as they had two huge blocks for back-to-back points and would seal the third set win on an overpass kill from junior outside hitter Cassidy Pickrell, 25-12.
ASU cleaned up a lot of what troubled them in the second set. They had 10 kills against five errors and doubled their block total for the match with four in the set.
Bailey had her best game of the season. The junior had 16 kills, which is a season high for her. She only had two errors and hit well over .400 for the match.
“BreElle Bailey has certainly risen to challenge,” Watson said. “.483 tonight, that’s impressive.”
Bailey relished the opportunity she has gotten in the offense.
“I love a challenge,” Bailey said. “It was time for me to step up and have a bigger impact on the team. I thought it would be fun.”
Koonts had another very successful game for ASU. She hit .500 recording five kills and zero errors. She also contributed defensively with five total blocks in the match.
ASU now seems significantly more comfortable in the post-Macey-Gardner-injury season. The changes that Watson has made are starting to realize their full potential.
“I think we accepted our new roles,” Follette said. “As a team, especially this weekend, I think it showed that we’re ready to still compete.”
The Sun Devils went 2-0 this weekend and remained undefeated at home this season. Their next test will be Wednesday, back on the road against No. 11 Stanford at 7:30 and can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.