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Friday Night Lights: Crucial Games for Men's Soccer & Women's Volleyball

UCLA Women's Volleyball hosts #14 Arizona In Pauley tonight in a match that may determine if the Bruins can finish in the top-4 of the Pac-12. Meanwhile, under the lights at Drake Stadium, UCLA Men's Soccer hosts #3 Stanford. A loss would be a huge setback for the Bruins in their quest for the conference title.


Women's Volleyball

Opponent: #14 Arizona (13-5, 3-3)

When: 6:00 PM PT, Friday, October 16, 2015

Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA

AudioBruin Live Audio

Video: Pac-12 Networks

Live StatsUCLA StatBroadcast

Official Match Preview | Match Notes

This is a big weekend for the #12 Bruins (13-3, 4-2). They are currently one game ahead of the 14th-ranked Wildcats in the Pac-12 standings, and need a weekend sweep if they hope to finish in the top-4 of the Pac-12.

In case you're wondering why the top-4 is significant, it's because it keeps the Bruins within touching distance of the elite west coast volleyball programs: Stanford, Southern Cal, and Washington. Every time the Bruins slide into the middle of the Pac-12 pack, it tarnishes UCLA's reputation as a national volleyball powerhouse. Being ranked in the national top-20 is nice, obviously, but in terms of competing for top recruits, UCLA needs to be competitive with the elite programs in the west.

Both of the Arizona schools are making noise nationally this season. The Wildcats (13-5, 3-3) are 14th-ranked while the Sun Devils (15-2, 4-2) are holding down the tenth spot in the rankings. Considering the fact that the Bruins are 1-2 this season against top-15 teams, this weekend will provide a stern test for Coach Sealy's squad. In particular, it will reveal how successful Coach Sealy has been in developing mental toughness in his players.

Fortunately, the Bruins were in good form on their Rocky Mountain road trip. As usual, the Bruins were a bit slow in working their way into their matches last week, but once they started to click, they were able to pull away to convincing wins.

Against the Arizona schools, UCLA can't afford slow starts. The Bruins have to play with intensity from the outset, and they have to maintain their focus and energy throughout the match. Both the Wildcats and the Sun Devils have #1 Trojans as their other southern California road trip opponent, so both will be targeting their match with UCLA in order to try to return home with a split.

While I've been critical of Coach Sealy's game management and use of personnel, as long as he finds a way to keep winning--and in particular, a way to breakthrough against the Pac-12's top teams--I'll withhold my criticism. For now, I'm content to judge Coach Sealy's decisions on the results he gets from his team.


UCLA Men's Soccer

Opponent: #3 Stanford (9-1-1, 2-0-1)

When: 8:00 PM PT, Friday, October 16, 2015

Where: Drake Stadium, Los Angeles, CA

AudioBruin Live Audio

Video: Pac-12 Networks

Live StatsUCLA StatBroadcast

Official Match Preview | Match Notes

Once upon a time, the Bruins were the top-ranked team in the nation. Then the 2015 college soccer season began, and as the results from the pitch came in, the Bruins dipped in the rankings, and eventually sank so low that they stopped receiving votes in the coaches poll.

Happily, the Bruins have had a mini-resurgence. But when I say mini, I mean mini. UCLA enters tonight's contest riding a two-game winning streak. Yes, the Bruins have been so wildly inconsistent this season that a two-game winning streak deserves mention.

Not only are the Bruins "hot" (relatively speaking, of course), but they also produced a rare clean sheet on Monday against SDSU. Is that an indication that UCLA's defensive frailty has been addressed? I'm doubtful, to say the least.

On the other hand, UCLA's attack has looked very sharp lately. The Bruins looked brilliant with some of their movement and passing against the Aztecs, and 11 goals in their last four games shows the potency of UCLA's attack.

Seyi Adekoya and Jose Hernandez have been particularly prolific. Adekoya has three of those 11 goals, and Hernandez has six. Even Stanford's extremely stingy defense which has allowed just five goals all season will have its hands full trying to shut down Adekoya and Hernandez.

Although Stanford (9-1-1, 2-0-1) has amassed a fantastic record to start the season, I'm less impressed by them than the coaches who judge the Cardinal to be the third best team in the country. I realize that I'm going out on a limb here, but I think the Bruins (6-5-0, 2-1-0) are very capable of pulling off an upset tonight and finding themselves in serious contention for the Pac-12 title.

Of course, when teams rely on scoring rather than on defense to win games, they tend to be inconsistent. The effort and organization needed to play good defense shouldn't vary from game to game, but inevitably, the result of playing aggressive, open, attacking soccer is unpredictable. At the moment, that's where the Bruins are, and until they achieve a greater level of defensive consistency, it will be very difficult for them to fashion winning streaks more than a few games long.

If the Bruins can pull everything together for 90 minutes, they can and should beat Stanford. But if Stanford can be disciplined in absorbing pressure and waiting for an opportunity to counterattack, the Bruins vulnerability in the back will likely be costly.

Against the Aztecs, Coach Salcedo seemed to have found a nice balance in midfield. If he can achieve that balance again, UCLA might finally start to live up to its potential.