When: Wednesday, March 5, 7 PM PST
Where: Rob Gym, Santa Barbara
Listen: Bruin Audio
After losing a pair of away matches to Hawai'i, the fifth-ranked Bruins play a final road match against the seventh-ranked Gauchos tonight. UCLA (13-5, 10-4) is currently tied with Long Beach State for second place in the MPSF, and Pepperdine is just a half game behind in fourth. If the Bruins lose to the Gauchos, UCLA will drop into a tie for fourth with UCSB (10-5, 9-5) and will be just one game ahead of the seventh-place Trojans. After squandering a great start to the MPSF campaign, Coach Speraw's squad is now fighting for position in the conference tournament and can't afford to drop a match to the Gauchos.
In addition to the necessity of rebounding immediately after two unimpressive displays in Honolulu, the Bruins will be forced to go to their bench again to replace injured starters. Both of UCLA's middle blockers suffered ankle injuries against the Warriors, with Spencer Rowe's injury looking particularly worrisome. Redshirt junior Clayton Paullin will likely replace Rowe, and if Kersten isn't able to play, Coach Speraw may turn to either sophomore John Zappia or sophomore Kyle Palmer. Neither Zappia nor Palmer have started a match this season.
Adding to the list of injured Bruins, setter Steve O'Dell continues to be sidelined by an undisclosed foot injury. Freshman Hagen Smith will probably once again start in O'Dell's place. Smith has played reasonably well since taking over setting duties from backup setter Michael Beals, but the Bruins have really missed O'Dell's experience and savvy. Smith is a fine defender, though, and perhaps he will be moved to libero if or when O'Dell returns to action.
Freshman Grant Chalmers will probably retain his position as first choice at libero even though his performance in the last few games hasn't been consistent. The situation is less certain at opposite: freshman Jackson Bantle has been the most consistent of the freshman competing for time at opposite, but none of the players has separated themselves from the competition.
Senior outside hitters Gonzalo Quiroga and Robart Page are absolutely critical to the UCLA attack. Of course it's great to have two all-conference hitters to rely on, but the downside of this is that the Bruins struggle mightily when either hitter has an off-night. In addition, UCLA's heavy dependence on Quiroga and Page makes the Bruins' attack predictable and ultimately less effective.
The Gauchos are the number one defensive team in the MPSF. Fortunately the Bruins have had good success playing against strong defensive teams. One key to tonight's match for the Bruins is consistently good passing. If the Bruins can give Hagen Smith a good pass off the UCSB serve, it will give Smith options in attack and make it harder for UCSB to slow down Quiroga and Page. A second key is for UCLA to clean up its blocking--too many teams are simply attacking the prominent seams in our block, thereby racking up kills without running much risk.
Coach Speraw's squad needs to be focused and concentrate on fundamentals tonight. If the Bruins can get the little things right, they'll be able to return home with a much needed victory.
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