#2 UCLA Men’s Volleyball (5-1, 3-0)
Opponent: Southern Cal (2-4, 1-2)
When: Friday, January 20, 2017, 8:00 PM PT
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruins Live Audio
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
Three up, three down. Three games into the MPSF season, the Bruins have a perfect 3-0 conference record with three straight sweeps.
The most recent victim was Cal Baptist. On Wednesday, the Bruins' defense wasn't at its best, and neither was the serving, but UCLA's offense continued to sizzle. The Bruins hit .391 for the match, and it would have been higher if not for a string of hitting errors in the final set.
Although JT Hatch led UCLA with 13 kills, the standout player was once again freshman MB Daenan Gyimah. Gyimah tallied 10 kills and hit .750 for the match. Both Jake Arnitz and Micah Ma'a were below par in attack, but Arnitz contributed two aces, three block assists and four digs, and Ma'a added 20 set assists, two aces, and four digs.
It was far from UCLA's best performance of the season, but the fact that the Bruins still earned a sweep is more evidence that this team has national championship potential.
After pulling off a huge upset of #4 Long Beach State to open the MPSF season, the Trojans have fallen on hard times, losing their next two matches against #14 Cal State Northridge and #12 UC Santa Barbara. Southern Cal was competitive in their match against the Gauchos, though, with the Trojans fighting back in sets 2 and 4 to pull even in the match before collapsing in the final set.
When UCLA legend Jeff Nygaard took over the Trojans' program, he knew that it would take time to turn the program around, and in just his second season, USC remains a work in progress. Give Coach Nygaard and the Trojans credit for taking on some big challenges this season--like UCLA, Southern Cal played in the AVCA Showcase Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge, facing #15 Penn State and #1 Ohio State. So although the Trojans already have four losses, they've come at the hands of four top-15 teams.
As Long Beach State found out, Southern Cal can be dangerous when it's at its best. Senior Lucas Yoder is still one of the best pin hitters in the conference, and he's been hot so far in 2017, averaging nearly 5 kills per set and hitting an impressive .395. Senior Andy Benesh still seems not to have returned to the form he showed prior to his back injury when he was an AVCA All-American honorable mention. However, Benesh looked awfully good against Long Beach State, notching a dozen kills and hitting .526 in the Trojans' upset of the 49ers. Freshman Aaron Strange has emerged as a second outside attacking threat for USC; he's averaging 2.38 kills per set, but he lacks consistency at this point in his collegiate career.
While I think it's incredibly unlikely that the Trojans will catch the Bruins looking ahead to their next match, if the Bruins start slowly and the Trojans have one of those rare matches when they are hitting on all cylinders, the Bruins could find themselves in quite a battle. But the Bruins have been well-focused since their loss to the Buckeyes, so I expect UCLA to take care of business with a sweep of the Trojans tonight.
Go BRUINS! Beat SC!