MPSF Tournament Quarterfinals
#2 UCLA Men's Volleyball (22-5, 16-5)
Opponent: #7 Hawai'i (13-9, 12-9)
When: 7:00 PM PDT, Saturday, April 16, 2016
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: UCLA Live Stream
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
The MPSF Tournament starts this evening, and for the Bruins, a trip to the semifinals is probably required to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
UCLA finished the regular season in a three-way tie for second place, but earned the conference tournament second seed on the basis of head-to-head tiebreakers against Stanford and Long Beach State. BYU finished the season as the MPSF regular season title winner by a two-match margin--the same two matches that the Bruins lost to the Cougars in the first week of April.
For those who aren't familiar with the NCAA Tournament selection process, it's a six-team field, with four automatic bids going to the conference tournament winners. That leaves two at-large bids. If BYU fails to win the MPSF Tournament championship, the Cougars will certainly get an at-large bid. Since there is only one non-MPSF team in the top-5 (Ohio State), the two at-large bids will probably go to MPSF teams unless Ohio State fails to win the MIVA Tournament championship, which doesn't seem likely. Therefore, the Bruins have to make sure they distinguish themselves from Stanford and Long Beach State in the MPSF Tournament.
The good news for the Bruins is that they won't have to play Stanford again unless not teams advance to the MPSF Tournament final. The bad news is that if UCLA eliminates Hawai'i tonight, the 49ers will be the Bruins likely opponent in the semifinals. UCLA is 2-0 against Long Beach State so far this season, but the 49ers will be very difficult to beat a third time--like the Bruins, they are a young team with a high ceiling.
MPSF Men's Volleyball Tournament Bracket pic.twitter.com/EDPffcV3nF— MPSF Volleyball (@MPSFVolleyball) April 10, 2016
One tournament win keeps the Bruins in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, while two wins should probably be enough to secure a bid.
In other words, UCLA has to beat Hawai'i tonight. The Bruins split their two matches with Hawai'i this season, dropping the first 3-1 before coming back the next day to claim a hard-fought 3-2 win. Of course those two matches were played in Honolulu back in February, which is one of the two toughest MPSF road trips. When the Bruins beat Hawai'i, it broke the Warriors 17-match home winning streak. This time the teams will play in Pauley Pavilion, and the young Bruins finished the season with two big victories against Stanford and Pepperdine.
The Rainbow Warriors have had an uneven season. They are 1-7 against the top four teams in the MPSF, and they are sub-.500 away from home. That said, Hawai'i is ranked #8 nationally, and the vast majority of Coach Speraw's players have never won an MPSF Tournament match. That will have to change tonight.
The Rainbow Warriors are led by senior OH Sinisa Zarkovic. Zarkovic is the lone player from Hawai'i to earn All-MPSF First Team honors. Senior libero Kolby Kanetake was named to the All-MPSF Second Team, and freshman opposite Stijn van Tilburg earned All-MPSF Honorable Mention. The Bruins had trouble containing van Tilburg in their first encounter--he had 21 kills and hit .381 in 42 swings.
The Bruins are well-represented on the MPSF All-Conference teams. Sophomore OH Jake Arnitz and super freshman setter Micah Ma'a both earned spots on the All-MPSF First-Team, junior MB Mitch Stahl was selected to the All-MPSF Second-Team, and junior setter Hagen Smith and sophomore OH JT Hatch were named All-MPSF Honorable Mention. That's five of the Bruins' six starters.
Ma'a had a terrific game when the Bruins beat Hawai'i in their second match in Honolulu. Ma'a slammed 18 kills (while hitting .500) and contributed 23 assists. Ma'a also played a big role in the Bruins dominance at the net--UCLA out-blocked Hawai'i by an amazing 19.5 to 4. The Bruins will need another strong defensive performance at the net to shut down Zarkovic and van Tilburg and move on to the semifinals of the MPSF Tournament.