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Beat SC! UCLA's High Wire Act Becomes More Difficult

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After a break for finals week, the Bruins return to the court tonight against the Trojans. UCLA probably needs to win all four of its remaining regular season matches to keep alive its hopes for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.

@UCLAMVB

#6 UCLA Men’s Volleyball (15-7, 8-6)

Opponent: #11 Southern Cal (11-12, 5-9)

When: Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 7:00 PM PT

Where: Galen Center, Los Angeles, CA

Audio: Bruin Live Audio

Streaming Video: Pac-12 Network

Live Stats: USC Trojans GameTracker

Official Match Preview

The Bruins enter the home stretch of the MPSF season tonight when they travel across town to play the 11th-ranked Trojans. UCLA has four games left in the conference season, and in all likelihood, the Bruins will have to win all of them to earn consideration for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.

Of course, UCLA can also qualify for the NCAA Tournament by winning the MPSF Tournament, but as things now stand, that would involve three consecutive wins over the fifth-, third-, and second-ranked teams in the country. Given the difficulty of that task, the Bruins need to keep open as many available postseason paths as possible.

That's not to suggest that winning four straight to end the regular season will be easy. The final two games against #4 Hawai'i will be extremely challenging, and tonight's match against the surging Trojans won't be easy either. Southern Cal is carrying a five-match winning streak, which includes a sweep of #7 Lewis.

Although UCLA enters today's contest with its own five-match winning streak, the Bruins failed to impress in a 3-2 squeaker against Concordia (25-22, 23-25, 23-25, 25-16, 15-9). Much of the blame for the pedestrian performance has been assigned to UCLA's woeful serving, but the problems extend beyond the Bruins' season-long serving inconsistency.  UCLA lost far more than its share of the long rallies, and the Bruins struggled to cope with Concordia's out-of-system plays. It certainly wasn't the kind of performance that inspires confidence in a team preparing for matches against much better competition.

In addition to the uneven showing by the Bruins, Coach Speraw opted for a couple of new looks in his rotation. With Micah Ma'a unavailable due to injury, Coach Speraw replaced opposite Christian Hessenauer with Jackson Bantle even though Bantle has been used primarily as a libero this season. Even more unexpected was Coach Speraw's decision to use outside hitter JT Hatch as a libero. I don't know if Coach Speraw will continue to experiment with Hatch as a libero, but for one match at least it proved successful.

For what it's worth, Southern Cal swept Concordia last week, 25-22, 25-23, 25-19.

The Trojans have exceeded preseason MPSF predictions. As things now stand, USC and UCSB are tied for the eighth spot in the conference standings, so the Trojans are fighting for a postseason berth. In other words, aside from the rivalry factor, Southern Cal has plenty at stake against the Bruins tonight.

UCLA won the previous meeting 3-1, but that was back in January when the Bruins looked like a true contender for the national title. That was before the injuries to Stahl and Arnitz and Ma'a. That was before the Bruins' February stumble.

Both teams will be treating tonight's match as if it's a postseason contest. The stakes are high. Because the opponent is Southern Cal, a UCLA victory will be extra sweet, and a UCLA loss will be extra bitter. But as far as the Bruins' pursuit of their goals for 2017 is concerned, all that matters is a win. Southern Cal is, at best, a spoiler.

Go BRUINS! Beat SC!