FROM PULLMAN -- The WSU volleyball team struggled offensively for the second straight match as the California Golden Bears beat the Cougs in four sets on Saturday night.
The Cougars managed to have a better night defensively than they did against Stanford, but that wasn't enough for WSU to beat Cal. After the loss, the Cougs fell to 15-6 (2-6 in the Pac-12) on the season. Cal is now 11-6 (4-4).
WSU started off the first set hot, and it looked like the Cougs had fixed a lot of their offensive issues from the previous night. The passing was markedly improved; as a result, the offense was extremely efficient. Washington State rapidly built up a lead thanks to its offensive efficiency and several miscues by a rusty Cal squad - Cal's last match was Wednesday against Washington. WSU won the first set 25-15.
Cal came out of the break in between sets looking like a completely different team. The Golden Bears' passing was sharper, and as a result they built 10-5 lead early in the set. Washington State did a lot to help the Bears build that lead early on with their own offensive miscues. When Cal earned the set point, they had a 24-18 lead, but they committed several offensive miscues that drug the match out and allowed the Cougs to come back. Cal eventually captured the set 25-22, the closest set of the match.
WSU slowly started to collapse in the third set. The Cougs' offensive production took a huge hit, and it was left up to their defense to try and win them the game. And the team tried; there were several rallies - spurred on by some impressive digs from Kate Sommers -- that brought the 604 people at Bohler Gym to their feet. However, Cal's offense had started to click and the Golden Bears cruised to a 25-19 victory.
Washington State's offense completely failed the team in the fourth set while Cal's continued to roll. The Golden Bears beat the Cougs 25-16 to clinch the match.
While this match was not a "must win" for the Cougs, it is the kind of match that can affect a team's ability to get into the NCAA tournament. These home games against middle of the road Pac-12 teams - teams that are more than likely going to be in the NCAA Tournament - are games that the Cougs are going to have to win to continue to be in the NCAA discussion.
The Cougs' offensive issues are now at the point where fans should be concerned. Washington State posted a poor .161 hitting percentage on Saturday night; the third set saw the Cougs hit .089, and the fourth set saw them hit .050. This is the third straight match where the Cougs hit in the .100s -- against Stanford the Cougs hit .115, and against Arizona they hit .124 - and the schedule doesn't get any easier going forward.
The Cougs travel to Los Angeles to take on No. 1 USC on Friday at 6 p.m and then take on UCLA on Saturday at 7 p.m. Both matches will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks.