When: Thursday, 7 PM PST
Where: RIMAC Arena, UCSD
Watch: UCSD Triton Network
Tonight the #1 ranked UCLA Bruins face unranked UCSD. This marks the first MPSF road game for the Bruins. UCLA (7-1, 4-0) is tied with BYU for the conference lead, so even though UCSD (0-7, 0-6) is winless, the Bruins need to make sure that they don't look ahead to their rematch with the Anteaters at Irvine on Saturday. BYU has a tough road trip this week (Pepperdine, USC), and since BYU is much worse on the road than at home, the Bruins should see the matches this week as an opportunity to capture sole possession of first place.
The Tritons' best player in attack is probably senior opposite Johl Awerkamp. Senior outside hitter Nick Iorfino is a secondary threat as is redshirt freshman middle blocker Mathew Schnitzer. However, as a group, the Tritons are very weak in attack, hitting just 0.157 for the season. UCSD isn't a particularly strong defensive team either, allowing opponents to hit 0.361. If the Bruins maintain their focus, they have a good chance of sweeping the Tritons.
As I noted at the end of the match against UCI on Monday, the Bruins need to improve significantly in a couple of areas if they are going to make a serious challenge for the conference title. In particular, the blocking has to improve; the Bruins have been very ineffective in blocking on the outside. Also, since the status of setter Steve O'Dell's injury remains a mystery, it's crucial that backup setter Michael Beals establishes an understanding with his hitters and develops consistency in his set placement and timing.
Coach Speraw has experimented with several of his freshman at opposite this year, but it came as a surprise when he started freshman Michael Fisher against UCI. Fisher responded by playing a magnificent match--aside from some problems with his blocking, his performance was brilliant. I suspect that Fisher will play outside hitter rather than opposite next year. The same is likely true for freshman Mitch Stahl. On the other hand, Jackson Bantle seems like a better long term fit at opposite, and appears to be the best passer of the three freshman. It will be interesting to see who starts at opposite tonight, and it's possible that Coach Speraw may give some of his starters a rest and let other players have an opportunity to show what they can do.
The official UCLA preview is here.