#6 UCLA Men’s Volleyball (10-7, 7-6)
Opponent: UC San Diego (5-10, 2-8)
When: Saturday, February 25, 2017, 7:00 PM PT
Where: RIMAC Arena, La Jolla, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Streaming Video: UCSD Tritons TV (subscription)
Live Stats: Tritons Live Stats
UCLA will try to double its win total for the month when it travels to La Jolla for a match against UCSD.
The fact that the Bruins have just one win in February after starting the month as the second-ranked team in the country and the first-place team in the MPSF standings doesn't come close to summarizing the extent of UCLA's recent woes. Six conference losses have dropped the Bruins into the lower half of the conference standings and leave the team fighting to qualify for the MPSF tournament.
In recent years, matches against UCSD have been a formality. The Tritons have been the MPSF cellar-dwellers for the past few years, and prior to picking up a pair of wins this season, had gone two years without a conference victory. That doesn't mean that the Bruins aren't favored tonight, but with the modest revival of Triton volleyball and the Bruins' loss of form, it's unlikely that UCLA will cruise to victory tonight.
There was something very familiar about the Bruins' loss to UC Irvine last night. As we've seen four times this month, UCLA took the match to five sets before finding a way to lose. After being edged in the first two sets (23-25, 26-28), the Bruins fought back to win the next two (25-22, 25-21). And UCLA even led 14-13 late in the fifth set, but then managed to lose four of the next five points to hand the final frame to the Anteaters (15-17).
For the most part, that's been the story of UCLA's slide--the Bruins have been competitive in most of their losses this month, but have failed to win big points down the stretch. Of course it's harder to win those big points when a team is missing its leaders, but at some point that explanation for the Bruins' failures becomes an excuse. Good teams adjust to circumstances; flawed teams struggle to adapt.
Coach Speraw made a significant adjustment against the Anteaters. Christian Hessenauer came off the bench to lead UCLA in kills as the Bruins switched to a 5-1. In fact, UCLA outhit UCI for the match, and the Bruins enjoyed a significant advantage in blocks. Unfortunately, UCLA didn't play great defense and struggled receiving serve.
Needless to say, there's a lot of room for improvement. However, if you look at UCLA's performances this month, the most striking thing is how so many of the losses could have been victories if the Bruins had been better at closing out sets.
That shouldn't be an issue today. The Bruins are significantly more talented than the Tritons. If UCLA needs five sets to put away UCSD, it may mean that the Bruins will carry their struggles into March.