When: Tuesday, March 11, 7 PM PDT
Where: Pauley Pavilion
Listen: Bruin Audio
Watch: Pac-12 Networks
On Saturday evening, UCLA finally ended its losing streak with a comfortable 3-0 win against the last place UCSD Tritons. But that wasn't the only good news--Spencer Rowe returned to action after recovering from an ankle sprain suffered in Honolulu, and Ian Sequeira started his first match since missing several matches with an undisclosed injury. Unfortunately the Bruins were still far from full strength; middle blocker Trent Kersten missed another match with an ankle injury, and setter Steve O'Dell continued to be sidelined with an injured foot. Against UCSD, freshman Hagen Smith once again filled in for O'Dell and freshman Mitch Stahl played a second straight match as a middle blocker. Both freshman performed admirably against the Tritons, and freshman Jackson Bantle was solid at opposite.
Tonight's match against fifth-ranked Pepperdine is a completely different proposition, however. The seventh-ranked Bruins have already lost once to Pepperdine this season, and in terms of trying to win an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, head-to-head results against other teams under consideration are very important. And in terms of the MPSF standings which will determine the conference tournament seedings, the third place Bruins (14-6, 11-5) are only half-a-game ahead of Pepperdine (10-5, 10-5). Since it seems increasingly likely that BYU will once again host the conference tournament as conference champion, UCLA will want to try to avoid finishing 4th or 5th in the conference standings in order to avoid a semifinal match with BYU. As we saw in the conference tournament last year, defeating BYU in Provo is a tremendously difficult task.
In the Bruins' first meeting with Pepperdine, the Waves followed a plan that has become a blueprint for beating Coach Speraw's squad. The plan has three basic elements:
- On offense, attack the UCLA block.
- On defense, commit blockers to slowing down Quiroga & Page (i.e., make UCLA run more of its attack through its middles).
- When serving, aggressively attack UCLA's inexperienced passers.
The Bruins' chances of beating the Waves tonight hinges on UCLA's ability to shore up its passing inconsistency, clean up its blocking technique, and be less predictable in attack. This is a critical match for the Bruins--a loss knocks them down to fifth place, a single game ahead of Southern Cal. In fact, this may be one of the most important matches of the season for the Bruins. A win will restore some momentum to the Bruins as they face a difficult final third of the 2014 season, with two remaining matches against third-ranked BYU and a match against second-ranked Long Beach State. If the Bruins are going to make a serious move in the MPSF homestretch, they need to start tonight.
The official preview is here.