#2 UCLA Men's Volleyball (11-2, 7-2)
Opponent: UC San Diego (3-10, 0-9)
When: 7:00 PM PST, Saturday, February 13, 2016
Where: John Wooden Center, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
UCLA is certain to tumble in next week's AVCA Coaches Poll after falling to UC Irvine 3-2 on Thursday. The loss will undoubtedly change the voters' perceptions of the Bruins, and rightly so. UCLA may drop as far as fifth behind Long Beach State, BYU, probably Stanford and possibly Loyola. That's the price that comes with losing at home to a team outside of the top-10.
More importantly, the Bruins are no longer in first place in the MPSF. Long Beach State now sits half a game ahead of UCLA and Stanford, with BYU just half a game out of second place. Fortunately, the Bruins still have a pair of games to be played against all of those teams with the exception of Long Beach State--the Bruins won the first meeting with the 49ers a couple of weeks ago.
UCLA followed a familiar pattern on Thursday against UCI by dropping the first set; the Bruins have lost the first set in four of their last five matches. It's a disturbing trend and suggests that the Bruins aren't dialled in mentally at the start of each match. Because of volleyball's scoring system that breaks matches into distinct segments, coming out flat is especially dangerous. It's a problem that Coach Speraw needs to address immediately.
The other main problem that needs to be addressed is the Bruins' defensive deficiency. The Anteaters hit .315 for the match against the Bruins, and for what may be the only time this season, the Bruins had a lower service reception percentage than their opponents.
One of the keys to the Bruins' 10-0 start to the 2016 season was their passing. Consistently good passing is even more important when a team runs a 6-0 (or 6-2) offense.
Of course, the reasons for UCLA's loss to UCI on Thursday go beyond defensive lapses and another slow start. Neither Micah Ma'a or Hagen Smith played particularly well, and the Bruins' outside attack remains inconsistent.
In my match preview, I suggested that JT Hatch deserved a start based on his performance in Honolulu. In fact, Coach Speraw did start Hatch, and Hatch turned in a performance that was probably good enough to earn him another start, but it certainly wasn't good enough to convince anyone that JT is back to his best, or for that matter, is separating himself from the competition.
Sadly, it won't be possible to draw any conclusions from tonight's match against the Tritons. UCSD hasn't won a conference match since 2014, so tonight's match will represent more of a challenge of UCLA's ability to focus than anything else. Unless Coach Speraw gives the majority of his starters the day off, anything short of a sweep will be a sign that the Bruins problems run deeper than previously thought.