Opponent: #3 Stanford (19-3, 17-3)
When: 5:00 PM PST, Thursday, April 7, 2016
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
Ordinarily senior night is the last regular season home game. Not so this year. The Bruins will honor their seniors--Jake Reeves and John Zappia--this evening against #3 Stanford. The Bruins close out the regular season on Saturday against #6 Pepperdine.
Today's game also features an odd start time. The match is scheduled for a 5:00 PM start, presumably because the Pac-12 is televising the game and needed to fit it in before the start of the UCLA-Stanford baseball game. Unfortunately, the early start likely means that there will be a negative impact on attendance, which is a shame considering that it's senior night.
It also would have been great if UCLA were playing for the MPSF regular season title this week. That possibility disintegrated last week when the Bruins dropped both of their matches against BYU. The pair of losses leaves UCLA two games behind both Stanford and BYU with just two games left in conference play. The Bruins are currently tied for third with Long Beach State, and given the schedule of matches in the final week of MPSF play, UCLA appears to be much more likely to finish fourth than third. However, the Bruins hold the tiebreaker against the 49ers, so if UCLA can win out, it should finish no lower than third.
Last week's losses to the Cougars did more than end UCLA's chance of claiming the MPSF regular season title. The losses also dented the Bruins' prospects of an NCAA Tournament berth this year. In men's volleyball, the tournament field features only 6 teams, and only two of those teams are selected via at-large bids. Therefore, to qualify for the tournament, UCLA must either win the MPSF tournament or convince the selection committee that it is more deserving than one of the following teams: Stanford, BYU, Long Beach State.
In my opinion, BYU and Stanford are almost guaranteed spots in the NCAA Tournament at this point. Even if neither team wins the conference tournament, they will both likely get at-large bids. On the other hand, if either BYU or Stanford wins the MPSF tournament, then the Bruins will have a shot at an at-large bid. In that situation, UCLA will have to compared with Long Beach State, so the Bruins really need to make a good case for themselves in the final week of the regular season. In that regard, a victory against Stanford tonight would be very helpful.
When the Bruins played Stanford at the end of February in Palo Alto, UCLA came up short, losing 1-3 (21-25, 25-20, 22-25, 20-25). Stanford was particularly effective attacking through the middle, and Cardinal opposite Gabriel Vega shredded the Bruins as he continually faced and beat a solo block. The Bruins were outhit and out-blocked by the Cardinal, and surprisingly, were even out-served by Stanford. That said, UCLA didn't play badly, but Stanford played like a #1 team.
Stanford has played well since that victory, but the Cardinal are definitely beatable as the Waves proved last month when they clipped the Cardinal 3-2. Stanford didn't serve well that day, and Pepperdine managed to match Stanford block for block.
UCLA will have to keep the Cardinal from dominating the battle in the middle tonight. The Bruins need big games from Mitch Stahl and Oliver Martin; if that happens, the Bruins have a good shot at beating Stanford.