#4 UCLA Men's Volleyball (13-3, 9-3)
Opponent: #15 Cal Baptist (8-9, 3-9)
When: 7:00 PM PST, Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
After opening the season with ten straight wins, UCLA has been losing as often as winning the past three weeks. It started with a split in Hawai'i. Then the Bruins returned home and inexplicably lost to the 12th-ranked Anteaters before rebounding with a sweep of the Tritons. Last week, UCLA began with a sweep of #9 Pepperdine before dropping a tough match to #4 Stanford in Palo Alto.
The drip-drip-drip of losses has been costly. In each of the past three weeks, the Bruins have dropped a spot in the AVCA Coaches Poll. In each of the past three weeks, have allowed the best teams in the MPSF (Long Beach State, BYU, and Stanford) to gain ground in the standings. Three weeks ago, the Bruins were in first place with a game and a half cushion over their nearest rival. Today the Bruins are in fourth place, a full game behind the 49ers and the Cardinal.
UCLA's performance against Stanford three days ago can be summarized in three words: not good enough. I want to emphasize that the Bruins didn't play badly. In fact, UCLA's performance was good enough to beat almost any team in the country. Of course Stanford isn't just any team. The Cardinal are probably playing better at the moment than any other MPSF team, except perhaps for Long Beach State.
There are a lot of reasons for the Bruins' loss in Palo Alto, but I want to focus on just two of them. First, serving has been one of the Bruins' most valuable weapons this season, but against the Cardinal there were too many serving errors. I know that Coach Speraw doesn't look only at the ratio of aces to errors in evaluating UCLA's service game; rather, he assesses the Bruins' success in applying effective pressure with their serve against the points lost to service errors. Unfortunately the cost of UCLA's 16 serving errors against Stanford was simply too high.
Second, UCLA's middle blockers were significantly outplayed by the Stanford pair, particularly on defense--Stahl and Martin had just 5 block assists while the Stanford duo had 9. The Stanford MBs hit nearly .700 for the match as well.
Overall, Stanford hit .400 in attack, reflecting the ineffectiveness of UCLA's defensive play at the net.
The Bruins have to start to address the problems that have led to their slump. Although UCLA can beat Cal Baptist by playing at the same level as we saw against Stanford, there are only four weeks to go before the Bruins and the 49ers meet again. Another conference loss in the meantime would seriously dent the Bruins' hope of winning the conference title.
There's plenty of time left in the season, and the Bruins still have games against all of the teams competing for the MPSF regular season title. But with four teams tightly bunched at the top of the standings, the Bruins can't afford to drift far away from the conference pace-setters. Tonight's game against Cal Baptist isn't a much win game, but in terms of UCLA's ability to challenge for the MPSF regular season title, it's effectively a must win game.