Top-10 Battle Lives up to Billing 

EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon rallied to avoid a sweep Sunday evening, but ultimately No. 3 Stanford came away with a four-set win over the No. 8 Ducks before 4,363 fans in Matthew Knight Arena, the ninth-largest home crowd in UO volleyball history.

The UO women (17-4, 7-3 Pac-12) took command of the third set early and held on to extend the match, then played even with the Cardinal early in the fourth. Stanford took control, though, and finished off a 25-23, 25-22, 22-25, 25-19 victory that was nationally televised by ESPN.

A week after a deflating sweep at the hands of Arizona State, the Ducks were much more competitive in beating California on Friday and then going toe-to-toe with the Cardinal on Sunday.

“One of the messages this week was, if we’re not always trying to grow or get better, we’re going the other way,” UO coach Matt Ulmer said. “I thought we looked very different this weekend compared to last weekend. That was very encouraging. …

“I like that we didn’t back down against them. We were really attacking; we just need to execute a little bit better.”

Kara McGhee followed up her 14-kill performance in Friday’s win over California by re-setting her season-best with 15 on Sunday. Mimi Colyer added 14 kills and Colby Neal had nine for the Ducks, who relied heavily on quick sets from Hannah Pukis to McGhee and Neal in the middle when they needed to score.

“Our middles are a complete game-changer,” Colyer said. “Our middles, all of them, are so, so good. And it just makes our offense so much harder (to defend) when we have people firing on all cylinders.”

How It Happened: With middle blocker Karson Bacon held out due to an injury, Neal was in the starting rotation, and she combined with McGhee for six kills in the opening set. Though Stanford scored three straight to open up a 17-13 gap and then held off Oregon’s rally late in the set, the Ducks were in it to the end thanks in part to their middles.

“I definitely was really grateful,” Neal said of earning the starting role. “It’s been really tough at practice; obviously Kara and Karson are so good, but we push each other in practice every day. I think that competition gives all of us the mindset to go in wherever we need to.”

Two kills by Neal and an ace gave the Ducks three straight points early in the second set, getting them out to a 7-3 lead. But the Cardinal responded with a 7-2 run to go ahead, and later scored five straight to lead 16-11. Three straight kills by Colyer got the Ducks back to a tie at 21-21, but Stanford scored four of the final five points in the set to win it.

In winning the third set, the Ducks avoided allowing any extended runs by the Cardinal. Two kills by Colyer and two service aces contributed to a 7-1 run that put Oregon up 11-7. The Ducks never trailed again in the set, with Stanford’s lone extended run coming when Oregon led 24-18 — the Cardinal fought off four set points before the Ducks clinched the set on a service error.

But in the fourth set, a couple more Stanford runs proved critical. The match was tied 9-9 when McGhee put a ball on the floor to give Oregon an apparent lead, but the play was ruled a lift. That sparked a 6-2 run that gave the Cardinal a 15-11 advantage. It was 16-13 when Stanford ripped off five more points in a row, a run that was sustained through two coaching challenges and a timeout from Ulmer to try and change the momentum.

Freshman Kate Thibault entered to serve for the Ducks and had two aces to help them close within 21-17, but the hole was too deep and Stanford hung on.

Up Next: The Ducks play at Washington State on Friday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Oregon).