LOS ANGELES — A day before BYU was to play host Southern Cal in the NCAA women's volleyball regional semifinals, the Cougars' Alexa Gray made this promise.
"If they score a few points, we'll come back even harder," Gray said Thursday. "If they're up, we're going to keep fighting. If we're up, we're going to keep fighting even harder."
Gray and her teammates kept that promise Friday night at the Galen Center, yet tenacity proved insufficient for victory.
The sixth-seeded Trojans defeated unseeded BYU 32-30, 25-13, 21-25, 25-16 and will face third-seeded Washington for the regional championship Saturday night.
Gray finished with 23 kills, Tambre Haddock added 13 kills and 17 digs, and Camry Godfrey passed for 49 assists. But USC (29-5) dominated the net.
The Trojans amassed 20 block assists and two solo blocks to finish with 12 team blocks. BYU (24-7) finished with only two team blocks on four block assists.
Nevetheless, the Cougars demonstrated their intensity in the first set. BYU had six chances to win that game after being involved in seven lead changes and 19 ties.
Yet after the Cougars took a 24-23 lead, USC used two kills apiece from Ebony Nwanebu and Samantha Bricio, another from Elise Ruddins and a BYU hitting error to move ahead, 29-28. The Cougars' Jessica Jardine punched a kill off a block to force another tie, then a back-row error put BYU at set point again.
But Bricio played the pivotal role.
The sophomore from Guadalajara, Mexico, converted a tip to force a 30-30 tie and enable her to serve. Next, Bricio scored an ace on a powerful jump serve, and USC took a 31-30 lead.
Sara Shaw ensured victory with a kill off Whitney Young's attempted block.
Young, the West Coast Conference's freshman of the year and leading blocker, did not record any points off blocks in the match.
"I was concerned that the tough and close first set was going to take a little out of the players," BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. "I told them to take from the first set that they can compete with USC and that they are right there, point for point."2 comments on this story
Both teams began the second set by forcing six ties, the last at 7-7, before USC used a 12-5 surge to build a 19-12 lead. BYU narrowed the deficit to 19-13 but Shaw pounded two kills and added a block assist in a 6-0 spree that ended the set.
The Cougars responded in the third set with a 15-8 blitz to break a 3-3 tie and take an 18-11 advantage. Gray led the rally with seven kills, and BYU hit .444 in that set.
USC took command of the fourth set by using an 8-2 run to create a 16-9 advantage. Four of the Trojans' points came from BYU's attacking errors.
Bricio finished with 22 kills and 13 digs for the Trojans, who hit .400. Nwanebu added 18 kills while Hayley Crone and Alice Pizzasegola combined for 60 assists, with Crone passing for 35.