Alexa Smith had not quite felt like herself in recent matches for the Colorado Buffaloes volleyball team. She made a vow Sunday would be different.
Taking advantage of an excellent day passing the ball by CU’s setters, Smith led four players in double-digit kills as the 20th-ranked Buffs posted a four-set victory against No. 12 UCLA at the Coors Events Center.
After a loss Friday night against No. 23 USC, Sunday’s win gave CU a split of its weekend series and also gave the Buffs a split of their four opening Pac-12 Conference contests at home. CU will play its next four matches on the road, beginning next weekend at ninth-ranked Stanford and Cal.
“I haven’t really felt good about the past couple games,” Smith said. “So I think I just dialed in a lot more focus in this game. We talked about swinging high hands, and I think that really helped. The coaches have really been helping with that.
“Obviously we didn’t feel good about the loss (against USC), so we knew we had to make some changes on our side with a new mentality going into this game.”
Smith remains CU’s leader in kills but posted just eight in each of the two matches prior to Sunday. She got back on track against the Bruins, pacing the Buffs with 16 kills and 14 digs. Stephanie Shadley and Gabby Simpson added 12 kills apiece, with middle blocker Naghede Abu chipping in with 10 kills to go with six blocks.
It was another standout all-around game for Simpson, who extended her program-record streak of triple-doubles to four. Along with her 12 kills, Simpson finished with 30 assists, 13 digs, three blocks, and three aces.
“I think we just kind of had to flip the switch,” Simpson said. “We knew we had UCLA and we had to come out strong.”
The Buffs were sharp from the outset, leading throughout Set 1 while posting a 25-21 win before the Bruins pulled even with a 26-24 win in Set 2.
CU once again led throughout Set 3 while dominating the frame, racing to a 9-2 lead before cruising to a 25-15 win that put the Buffs up two sets to one. UCLA played at set point twice late in Set 4 with an opportunity to force a deciding fifth, but consecutive points from Shadley and Joslyn Hayes clinched the match for CU with a 28-26 decision.
Kiara McKibben tallied 23 assists for the Buffs while senior Cierra Simpson paced the defense with 27 digs.
After falling to 0-13 all-time against USC on Friday, Sunday’s win was just the third for CU in 13 contests against UCLA. CU improved to 3-2 this season against ranked foes, which does not include a loss against a Utah team that joined the top 25 after defeating the Buffs last week.
“Every match, home or away, is going to be a tough match,” CU coach Jesse Mahoney said. “Everyone we play is going to be a top-20 or top-50 at worst team. We really needed this win and to play well in a win. I think we’ll feel good about ourselves going into this week because we know we can play with the best in the country. Today helped prove it.”
No. 20 Colorado 3, No. 12 UCLA 1
At Coors Events Center
UCLA (11-3, 2-2) 21 26 15 26
Kills — UCLA: Anderson 15, Van Winden 10; CU: Smith 16, Shadley 12, G. Simpson 12, Abu 10.
Blocks — UCLA: Anderson 2, Van Winden 2, Gates 2; CU: Abu 6, Pfefferle 4, Smith 3, G. Simpson 3, Hayes 3.
Assists — UCLA: Chandler 27, Miller 19; CU: G. Simpson 30, McKibben 23.
Aces — UCLA: Six players with 1; CU: G. Simpson 3, McKibben 2.
Digs — UCLA: Formico 15, Anderson 14, Miller 3; CU: C. Simpson 27, Smith 14, G. Simpson 13.