After knocking off #1 Stanford on Friday, the Bruins swept Pacific 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-18) on Saturday in spite of the absence of setter Steve O'Dell. With O'Dell wearing a walking boot and watching from the sidelines, redshirt junior setter Michael Beals orchestrated the Bruins attack. Although Pacific was overmatched, the UCLA attack was inconsistent and inefficient, which should be expected with a backup setter getting only the second start of his collegiate career. UCLA attackers bailed out Beals on numerous occasions with successful tips on sets that suffered from poor placement or bad timing. UCSB is a much better team than Pacific; the Bruins can't be expected to win points on misplaced sets against a team of UCSB's caliber.
As of today, there is no new information about O'Dell's injury. My best guess is that he'll be unavailable again tonight and that Beals will get his second straight start. Beals is bound to be sharper in his second outing of the season in terms of ball placement and reading the game, but the match tonight will present a higher pressure environment and a faster-paced game. Therefore it will be important for Beals to establish a middle attack early and to transition a little more smoothly between defensive and offensive responsibilities.
Pacific presented little resistance to the Bruins' attack. UCLA hit a healthy 0.434 for the match and was led by Robart Page with 14 kills (0.423) and Gonzalo Quiroga with 13 kills (0.591).. Quiroga led the team with 11 digs and Beals added 8. Pacific managed only a weak 0.167 attack percentage against the UCLA defense. With the two victories against MPSF opponents to open the conference season, UCLA has moved up three spots in this week's poll to #3, trailing only #1 Pepperdine and #2 Loyola.
The Gauchos (3-0, 2-0) are one of four undefeated teams in conference play. On the basis of home wins over Stanford and Pacific, UCSB has advanced from ninth to eighth in this week's poll. UCSB features a balanced attack. Junior outside hitter Austin Kingi leads the Gauchos in kills; the other big threat is senior middle blocker Ryan Thompson. However, the best player on the Gauchos may be sophomore setter Jonah Seif; he was selected to the MPSF All-Freshman team at the end of the 2013 season and also earned All-MPSF honorable mention. The strength of the Gauchos is their defense--their opponents are hitting a measly 0.136 against them.
The Bruins need to succeed in three areas to beat UCSB tonight. First, the Bruins need to get off to a good start; UCSB is very good at protecting leads. Second, UCSB thrives on long rallies; therefore, the Bruins need to serve aggressively tonight. Finally, because the Gauchos are a strong blocking team, our setter (O'Dell or Beals) needs to make good decisions to keep the UCSB blockers off balance.
The match begins tonight at 7 PM PST at Pauley Pavilion and will be televised by the Pac-12 network.