When: Wednesday, February 5, 7 PM PST
Where: Pepperdine's Firestone Fieldhouse, Malibu
Listen: Bruin Audio
Watch: According to the UCLA Athletic Department, there is no video available for this game. However, according to the Pepperdine Athletic Department website, video is available here.
Following a pair of victories over two-time defending national champs UC Irvine last week, the Bruins took sole possession of the top spot in the national coaches poll. And after #3 Pepperdine handed #4 BYU their first conference loss of the season, UCLA took sole possession of first place in the MPSF. Tonight's match against Pepperdine (5-1, 5-1) represents UCLA's toughest challenge of the season so far and will give the Bruins (9-1, 6-0) a chance to build their lead over a serious conference title contender.
The match features a showdown between UCLA's conference-best offense and Pepperdine's conference-best defense. Pepperdine leads the nation in blocking with a remarkable 3.37 blocks per set and is second nationally in digs with 10.77 digs per set. UCLA leads the MPSF with an attack percentage of 0.344 and averages a conference-best 1.65 aces per set.
Pepperdine's attack is led by outside hitter Josh Taylor and middle blocker Parker Kalmbach. The Waves' setter, All-American Matt West, is outstanding in his distribution and his decision-making. However, Pepperdine doesn't win with its offense; the Waves try to extend rallies and force errors.
The Bruins continue to rely heavily on outside hitters Gonzalo Quiroga and Robart Page. UCLA has still not released information about setter Steve O'Dell's injury, so it seems likely that backup setter Michael Beals will direct the Bruins' attack again. If so, Beals needs to make an effort to be less predictable in his distribution tonight, otherwise the Waves will find it easier to use their big block to shut down the Bruins' attack. It's also critical that UCLA serve well against Pepperdine; giving away cheap points to a defensive team like Pepperdine is a recipe for a miserable night.
I've given up trying to predict which one of the Bruins' outstanding freshmen Coach Speraw will select to start at opposite for any given match. Considering the importance of this match and the strength of the opposition, it will be interesting to see how the freshman opposite (Fisher, Bantle, or Stahl) and backup setter Michael Beals react to the pressure of playing in what is likely to be a very tight match. Let's hope that in this matchup of top-offense versus top-defense, the outcome is the opposite of the result in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The official preview is here.