When: Sunday, February 9, 6 PM PST
Where: Galen Center, USC
Listen: Bruin Audio
Watch: Pac-12 Network
After a disappointing performance against #3 Pepperdine on Wednesday, the first place Bruins (9-2, 6-1) will try to rebound against fifth-ranked USC (6-3, 5-3) this evening. Although the Bruins will certainly lose their #1 ranking after the defeat to Pepperdine, a solid victory against Southern Cal will probably see UCLA fall no further than third in the rankings following UCSB's upset of Pepperdine yesterday. Of course, the Bruins also need a victory to maintain a share of the conference lead with BYU.
The Bruins played poorly against Pepperdine on Wednesday. The Bruins were hurt badly by their inability to consistently provide backup setter Michael Beals with a good pass from serve reception, frequently leaving him without the option of a middle attack. Considering the fact that Pepperdine is one of the best blocking teams nationally and the fact that Beals has been inconsistent in his placement of wide balls, UCLA's attack was crippled by poor passing. Freshman opposite Michael Fisher struggled with serve reception and was replaced early in the match by freshman Jackson Bantle. Coach Speraw also replaced Beals with freshman Hagen Smith briefly, but none of the changes made much difference because the passing remained subpar. I suspect that Coach Speraw might have substituted for libero Ian Sequeira too if he'd had a viable option. If UCLA's passing is not substantially improved tonight, the Bruins will find it very difficult to return home with a win against SC.
Southern Cal's attack is led by freshman OH Lucas Yoder. Freshman MB Andy Benesh provides an efficient middle option and junior opposite Chris Lischke is a third effective target. Junior setter Micah Christenson is currently the first choice setter for the US Men's National Team and is unquestionably the best setter in the college game.
Southern Cal is not a particularly strong serving team, and they are vulnerable in serve reception. Another notable Trojan weakness is their relatively ineffective blocking. If UCLA passes the ball reasonably well, outside hitters Gonzalo Quiroga and Robart Page should put up some big numbers and UCLA will conclude its run of away matches with a crucial victory.
The official preview is here.