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Showdown! #1 UCLA Men's Volleyball Hosts #2 Long Beach State

The two best teams in the nation meet tonight in Pauley Pavilion.


#1 UCLA Men's Volleyball (8-0, 4-0)

Opponent: Long Beach State (6-1, 3-1)

When: 7:00 PM PST, Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA

AudioBruin Audio

Video: UCLA Live Stream

Live StatsUCLA StatBroadcast

Official Match PreviewMatch Notes (None available)

Early season matches don't get much better than this. Tonight the best two teams in the country square off with first place in the MPSF on the line. It's the undefeated Bruins (8-0, 4-0) against the Long Beach State 49ers (6-1, 3-1) in a match that may ultimately determine the conference champion.

Like the Bruins, the 49ers are young and plenty talented. Long Beach State's attack is quarterbacked by freshman setter Josh Tuaniga. Tuaniga is certainly one of the top freshmen in the nation and will likely compete with the Bruins' Micha Ma'a for national Freshman of the Year honors.

But Tuaniga isn't the 49ers' only freshman standout. OH TJ DeFalco was one of the top high school volleyball players in the nation, and has locked down a spot in the Long Beach State starting lineup since opening day. He leads the 49ers in kills, with almost twice the number of kills as the 49ers' second-most prolific attacker. That second-most prolific attacker is a freshman too, by the way--6'7" OPP Kyle Ensing.

Unlike UCLA, Long Beach State has a group of seniors to provide leadership and stability. MB Taylor Gregory is the senior leader on the court, and junior MB Bruce Yould combines with Gregory to give the 49ers experience and defensive strength at the net.

Long Beach State has accumulated pretty impressive statistics to start the season, including a .345 attack percentage and a .833 serve percentage. However, Long Beach State has played a relatively soft schedule to open the season, starting with nonconference matches against Lindenwold, Sacred Heart, and Quincy before opening the conference season against Cal Baptist. The first serious challenge the 49ers faced was a two-match set against #3 BYU this past weekend. The 49ers and the Cougars split the pair of games in Long Beach, dropping BYU into seventh place in the conference and Long Beach State into a tie for third.

The Bruins are currently in sole possession of first place in the MPSF, a full game ahead of Cal State Northridge.

UCLA is coming off a sweep of Princeton on Monday night (25-19, 25-23, 25-16). As expected, Coach Speraw used the opportunity to give playing time to many of his bench players. Starters Mitch Stahl, Michael Fisher, and Jake Arnitz didn't feature in the match, and starter Oliver Martin was used in only one of the three sets.

Sophomore JT Hatch was back in the starting lineup, and middle blockers Eric Sprague and John Zappia earned starting nods as well. Freshman Dylan Missry got his second start of the season and once again left a good impression with a game-leading 10 kills. Freshman setter Micah Ma'a had another remarkable all-around performance with 7 kills (.545 attack percentage), 26 assists and four blocks.

The fact that the Bruins were able to rout Princeton with most of their starters on the bench speaks volumes about the talent that Coach Speraw has amassed on the roster. But tonight's match is less about talent and more about fundamentals and execution. If the Bruins continue to pass as well as they have in the first eight games of the season, they'll be very difficult to beat. If UCLA continues to apply pressure with terrific serving, it can survive some inconsistency from its outside attackers. If the Bruins continue to be effective in blocking at the pins, Long Beach State's freshman hitters will struggle to make an impact.

There's a lot at stake for the Bruins tonight. A win would give them a two-game cushion in the MPSF title race over one of the conference's strongest contenders. A victory would maintain their perfect record and go a long way to securing another week at the top of the polls. However you look at it, it's a big game for both teams.