MPSF Tournament Championship Game
#3 UCLA Men's Volleyball (25-5, 17-5)
Opponent: #1 BYU (25-3, 19-3)
When: 6:00 PM PDT, Saturday, April 23, 2016
Where: Smith Fieldhouse, Provo, UT
Audio: BYU Radio
Satellite Radio: Sirius XM 143
Live Stats: BYU StatBroadcast
For the third time this season, UCLA beat Long Beach State. But yesterday's victory over the 49ers was far more significant than the previous two since it propelled the Bruins into the MPSF Tournament title game. As expected, UCLA's opponent is BYU, the nation's top-ranked team and the tournament host.
Although the Bruins swept LBSU for the second time this season, the set scores from the first two sets reflect how close the match was for the first hour. The Bruins edged the Beach in set 1, 26-24; set 2 followed a similar trajectory with UCLA finally claiming the set at 28-26. After that, the Bruins surged to a substantial lead in set 3 and then traded points with the 49ers to close out the final set at 25-19.
JT Hatch led the Bruins with 14 kills and hit an efficient .429. Jake Arnitz added 9 kills, but he missed a lot too (6 attack errors). Mitch Stahl had 7 kills on just 7 swings (.636) and Micah Ma'a continued his amazing freshman season with 8 kills in 12 errorless swings (.667). Ma'a also tallied 19 assists, 5 digs, and 2 block assists. And in case you missed it, he also had another spectacular save:
Micah back at it again!!!!— UCLA M. Volleyball (@UCLAMVB) April 22, 2016
If you're not watching this game tune in NOW! pic.twitter.com/450hkqdkjZ
Obviously the fourth-ranked 49ers are a very good team, but beating the Cougars will be much more difficult, especially in Provo. That said, BYU had a close call in their semifinal match against UC Santa Barbara. The Cougars needed five sets to eliminate the Gauchos after blowing a 2-set lead. BYU leaned heavily on opposite Ben Patch and Patch delivered with a season-high 32 kills.
The fact that Patch was extraordinarily productive against UCSB doesn't bode well for the Bruins. Against Long Beach State, UCLA struggled to slow down the 49ers' weak side attack. With Patch hitting though zone 2, the Bruins will have to do a much better job defensively in that area tonight.
UCLA was a clear second-best in its two regular season matches against BYU. On back-to-back nights, the Bruins lost both contests by 3-1 scores, and frankly, although they showed some improvement between game 1 and game 2, it wasn't nearly enough to make a difference in the outcome. Both of those games were played in Westwood. As I noted at the outset, tonight's contest is in Provo, where BYU has historically enjoyed a tremendous home court advantage. In other words, the Bruins will probably have to play their best game of the season to pull off an upset of the Cougars this evening.
The good news is that UCLA's victory over Long Beach State should ensure an NCAA Tournament berth. If UCLA wins tonight, the Bruins would earn the MPSF's automatic bid and would avoid a play-in game. If the Bruins lose tonight, in all likelihood they will be awarded an at-large bid that would probably require them to beat the Conference Carolina tournament champion to advance to the NCAA final four. In either scenario, the Bruins will probably have to play BYU again.