This afternoon in Provo, the Bruins beat the Concordia Eagles three sets to one to advance to the MPSF Championship Game on Saturday night.
It was a tougher match than expected for UCLA. Concordia took advantage of eight Bruin attack errors as the Eagles led for most of the first set. The Bruins jumped out to an early leadby scoring the first point as well as the third and UCLA led, 2-1. Concordia went on a 5-0 run powered by four Bruin attack errors to go ahead 6-2.
It took until 17-17 for UCLA to tie the set back up. The Bruins used the first two points of a 7-2 run to do so and eventually take a 22-19 lead. After the teams split the next four points, UCLA had their first set point at 24-21. But the Bruins blew three set points as the Eagles tied it back up at 24-24 as part of a 7-2 run and Concordia won the first set 28-26.
It’s safe to say that those eight attack errors cost the Bruins this set. In addition to the attack errors during the early Concordia run, the Bruins made two more attack errors during the final Concordia run including one by Oliver Martin on Concordia’s set point.
UCLA bounced back in the second set, but it wasn’t easy. The teams battled it out over the first 14 points to a 7-7 tie. The Eagles then went on a 5-2 run and jumped ahead 12-9, but a 4-1 Bruin run tied the set up at 13-13. Concordia scored the next two points to retake the lead, but a 7-1 run by the Bruins put UCLA up for good and the Bruins won the set 25-21.
The third set was another battle. Neither team scored more than two consecutive points through the first forty points of thes set and, overall, there were six ties through the course of this set. The Bruins were actually trailing for most of the set and they didn’t have a lead until they put together a 4-0 run while trailing 21-19. Even then, Concordia managed to tie the set back up at 23-23. Thankfully, UCLA was able to win three of the final four points to win the set, 26-24.
The early going of the fourth set was also a battle and the teams were tied 6-6. The Eagles scored the next two points to go up 8-6 when the Bruins finally played the way they are capable. UCLA went on an 8-2 run to take a 14-10 lead. From that point, the Bruins never led by less than two and they went on to win the set, 25-18, and the match, 3-1.
Daenan Gyimah led UCLA with 16 kills while Jake Arnitz had 15. Both guys had six blocks in the match. Meanwhile, Micah Ma’a led UCLA with 45 assists and 10 digs.
It was ugly at times, but the Bruins did what they needed to do. UCLA now advances to the MSPF Championship Game on Saturday against the winner of tonight’s match between BYU and Southern Cal.
Hopefully, the Bruins come out with a better sense of urgency on Saturday night. If UCLA wins on Saturday, they will receive an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament at the friendly confines of Pauley Pavilion the first weekend of May. However, if they are unable to win the championship on Saturday, they will most likely need Long Beach State to win the Big West Tournament in order for the Bruins to make the NCAA Tourney, due to the fact that there are only two at-large berths available in the tournament.
Regardless, the fact that there are only two at-large berths available make Saturday’s match the biggest one of the season because the Bruins control their own destiny if they win.
Ironically, Bruin fans may want to root for Southern Cal to win tonight so that UCLA doesn’t have to face BYU against a home crowd on Saturday. The flip side of that is that it’s hard, if not downright impossible for any self-respecting Bruin fan to have to cheer on the Trojans and that’s not even considering the fact that Southern Cal was the last team to beat the Bruins.
Ultimately, UCLA can’t control who they play. They just need to come out and win on Saturday.