The U.S. women's national volleyball team squandered a lead of two games to none, opting to tinker with its lineup and tactics, but then rallied to defeat Japan in five games, 15-8, 15-9, 12-15, 13-15, 18-16, last night before 4,254 at the Smith Center.

The United States, which had been routed Thursday night in Pittsburgh by the same team, won last night with an aggressive defense anchored by 6-foot-2 middle blocker Caren Kimner.

"We had the jitters and psyched ourselves out (in Pittsburgh)," said Kimner, whose 25 kills included the powerful match point. "We were much more confident tonight."

The Japanese team, with five members of its 1984 Olympic bronze medal squad, is using this seven-game tour to prepare for the 1986 world championships. But the United States, with only Olympic alternate Karolyn Kirby left from its silver medal team, is starting from scratch. So rookie U.S. Coach Taras Liskevych treats each game as a tryout of players and ideas.

Experimentation nearly cost the United States last night's match. After his team impressively dismantled Japan in the first two games with the same lineup, Liskevych inserted Kirby, who is injured, and Raelyn Hoglund into the third game and later played his whole squad. That decision, coupled with some deft serving by Japan's Shihoko Sato (four service points in the game), shifted the momentum away from the Americans.

Liskevych returned to his original starters in the fourth game, but Japan already had settled into an offensive flow that was hard to break. Led by 6-foot Yukari Kawase at the net, the Japanese executed quickly in order to keep the Americans from setting up their defense.

"The Japanese are so consistent," said Kirby, whose fractured right ring finger limited her playing time to the third and fifth games. "They hurry everything, so our blockers can't get set."

In the deciding game, Japan again relied upon Sato's low, twisting serves to build a 5-3 lead. But the United States stayed close on three kills each by Marsha Bond and Angela Rock, tying the score six times before winning the match on Kimner's kill.