#6 UCLA Men’s Volleyball (10-6, 7-5)
Opponent: #7 UC Irvine (9-5, 6-4)
When: Friday, February 24, 2017, 7:00 PM PT
Where: Bren Events Center, Irvine, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Streaming Video: TBA
Live Stats: UC Irvine Presto Sports Stats
With five losses in their last six matches, it's safe to say that the Bruins need to get back to winning ways immediately before their 2017 campaign becomes a lost cause. A loss tonight to the seventh-ranked Anteaters would drop UCLA into the danger zone in terms of qualifying for the MPSF tournament, which provides the only realistic path the Bruins have to the postseason now.
February has been a terrible month for the Bruins. A series of devastating injuries have crippled the Bruins' attack, and the timing of the road trip to Provo and last week's visit by the 49ers couldn't have been worse. But those are things over which Coach Speraw has no control. His task is to make the best of a really bad situation, and going forward, that means finding a way to stop the Bruins slide.
A look at the conference standings shows UCLA in seventh place (in terms of losses). However, as dire as that sounds, the Bruins' position could be substantially improved with a win tonight against UC Irvine coupled with likely losses by MPSF foes Stanford and Pepperdine. Assuming BYU beats Stanford and Pepperdine loses in Hawai'i, a Bruin victory over the Anteaters would lift UCLA into a four-way tie for fourth place (again, based on conference losses). Furthermore, with Stanford heading to Hawai'i in a couple of weeks and Pepperdine facing BYU, UCLA could be in sole possession of fourth place in two weeks. That may not sound like much of an achievement, but given the circumstances in which the Bruins find themselves now, fourth place doesn't look so bad.
Even under the best of circumstances, beating Long Beach State is a tough challenge. Last Saturday, after losing Mitch Stahl to injury for a second time this month, the Bruins actually played pretty well against the 49ers. Unfortunately, playing pretty well isn't good enough to overcome the 49ers when they're in good form. To its credit, UCLA hung with LBSU for most of the match. Even though the Bruins lost in three sets (20-25, 23-25, 22-25), a statistical breakdown of the match shows how competitive UCLA was. Hopefully that's something that Coach Speraw can build on as he prepares his squad for the Anteaters.
UCI hasn't played a competitive match in nearly two weeks, and prior to the break, the Anteaters weren't playing particularly well, having lost two of three home games. That makes it especially difficult to gauge how tonight's match will play out. Will the Anteaters be rested or rusty? Will the Bruins be able to build on their relatively good showing against The Beach or will we see a return of the inconsistent play that has plagued UCLA for the past few weeks?
One thing is certain, though: this is the Bruins' last realistic chance to avoid a dogfight for postseason qualification. If the Bruins win tonight, the path to the conference tournament should be relatively straightforward. On the other hand, if UCLA loses, the current tailspin will look a lot like a death spiral.