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UCLA's Title Defense Moves to the Semis: The Bruins Battle the Bulldogs

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The Bruins moved a step closer to a second straight national title match when they defeated the second-ranked Tar Heels yesterday. Today they face the sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in an NCAA tournament semifinal match.

@NCAA

Opponent: #6 Georgia (24-6)

When: Monday, May 18, 3:00 PM PDT

Where: Hurd Tennis Center, Waco, TX (or Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center)

Audio: None

Watch Online (Outdoor Courts only)Baylor Live Video

Live Stats (Outdoor Courts): Baylor Live Stats

Live Stats (Indoor Courts): Baylor Live Stats

Live BlogBaylor In-Match Blog

UCLA Resources: UCLA Official PreviewUCLA Media Guide

NCAA Resources: NCAA Digital Tournament ProgramNCAA Bracket

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The <a href="https://twitter.com/uclawtennis">@uclawtennis</a> team plays for a spot in the finals! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UCLA?src=hash">#UCLA</a> vs. Georgia today at 3pm PT! <a href="http://t.co/6svOYtQyV7">http://t.co/6svOYtQyV7</a> <a href="http://t.co/Liqsjc9GSq">pic.twitter.com/Liqsjc9GSq</a></p>&mdash; UCLA Athletics (@UCLAAthletics) <a href="https://twitter.com/UCLAAthletics/status/600376619249860608">May 18, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Yesterday the Bruins bounced the Tar Heels from the tournament for a second straight year. Next up: the sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. If the weather in Waco cooperates, the match will be played outdoors today starting at 3 PM PDT. However, any weather-related disruption will potentially change the start time and/or location of the match. Please check the comments section below for updates.

The Bruins Beat the Tar Heels...Again!

In a rematch of last year's championship, the Bruins faced #2 North Carolina in a quarterfinal match. Sunday's result was much the same as last year's, though not as close--yesterday UCLA jumped out to a lead and never looked back, posting a 4-1 victory over the Tar Heels.

Doubles play didn't start well for the Bruins. Chanelle Van Nguyen and Terri Fleming have not competed together much, and it showed again yesterday as Van Nguyen and Fleming lost 0-8 on court 3. Despite the setback, the Bruins won the doubles point with an 8-5 victory from Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady, and an 8-4 win from Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips.

With the doubles point in hand, the Bruins ratcheted up the pressure on the Tar Heels by winning the first set on four of the six singles courts. Jennifer Brady--who seems to be returning to top form after her injury--led the way when she trounced #20 Caroline Price 6-4, 6-1 to give UCLA a 2-0 lead.

The surprise of the day came shortly after when Catherine Harrison lost her duel, 3-6, 4-6. Harrison has been playing consistently outstanding tennis lately, so her loss was really unexpected. Fortunately "grinder" Chanelle Van Nguyen was able to frustrate her opponent (#16 Haley Carter) with deep balls and eventually earned the Bruins' third point of the day with a 6-0, 6-2 upset on court 2.

At this point, after taking the first set 6-3, Robin Anderson found herself trailing 0-4 in the second set. But as we've come to expect from the nation's best player, Anderson stormed back, fought off three set points, and forced a second set tiebreaker. Anderson blitzed #7 Jamie Loeb in the tiebreaker, racing to a 5-0 lead before winning the tiebreaker, the set and the match.

The final scoreline shows how close the score was in play that was unfinished and the importance of Anderson's comeback:

#6 UCLA 4, #2 North Carolina 1

Doubles

  • 1. #9 Anderson/Brady (UCLA) def. #35 Carter/Kay (UNC) 8-5
  • 2. #3 Harrison/McPhillips (UCLA) def. Dai/Loeb (UNC) 8-4
  • 3. Price/Vialle (UNC) def. Terri Fleming/Van Nguyen (UCLA) 8-0
Singles
  • 1. #1 Robin Anderson (UCLA) def. #7 Jamie Loeb (UNC) 6-3, 7-6(1)
  • 2. #21 Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) def. #16 Haley Carter (UNC) 6-0, 6-2
  • 3. #47 Jennifer Brady (UCLA) def. #20 Caroline Price (UNC) 6-4, 6-1
  • 4. #102 Whitney Kay (UNC) def. #33 Catherine Harrison (UCLA) 6-3, 6-4
  • 5. Kate Vialle (UNC) vs. #35 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) 6-4, 3-6, 1-3, unfinished
  • 6. Ashley Dai (UNC) vs. #109 Kaitlin Ray (UCLA) 2-6, 6-1, 2-2, unfinished

UCLA in the ITA Rankings

Although the Bruins are the seventh-seeded team in the NCAA tournament, they are ranked sixth nationally by the ITA, and UCLA has six players ranked in the top-125 in the country. According to the official site:

UCLA is currently ranked No. 6 in the nation in the ITA team rankings (May 1). Individually, Robin Anderson checks in at No. 1 in the country. She is joined in the top 25 by No. 21 Chanelle Van Nguyen. Other ranked singles players include: No. 33 Catherine Harrison, No. 35 Kyle McPhillips, No. 47 Jennifer Brady and No. 109 Kaitlin Ray. In doubles, Harrison and McPhillips are ranked No. 3, followed by Anderson and Brady at No. 9. UCLA, Cal and Stanford are the only three schools in the country with two doubles teams ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Scouting the Bulldogs

Georgia (24-6) is currently sixth in the ITA national rankings. All six of the Bulldogs' losses have been against top-15 teams (#2 North Carolina, #4 Vanderbilt, #5 Florida, #8 Virginia, #9 Baylor, #13 Alabama).

The Bruins and Bulldogs met earlier this year at the National Team Indoors. On that occasion, Georgia won 4-2. However, neither Catherine Harrison nor Jennifer Brady featured in singles that day, and Robin Anderson's doubles partner for the contest was Terri Fleming. Nevertheless, that victory stands as Georgia's best win of the season.

Like UCLA, Georgia has six players in the ITA national singles rankings. Senior Lauren Herring leads the Bulldogs as the #5 player in the nation. Freshman Kennedy Shaffer checks in a #59, and freshman Ellen Perez isn't far behind at #63. A third freshman--Hannah King--is ranked 88th. Next is junior Silvia Garcia at #94. The sixth member of the Georgia starters, sophomore Caroline Brinson, is ranked #104.

Georgia also has all three of its doubles teams in the ITA rankings. Herring/Perez are ranked 11th nationally, Shaffer/Garcia are ranked 43rd, and Brinson/King are ranked 85th. Needless to say, Georgia is particularly formidable in doubles.

The Bulldogs haven't had a tournament match go down to the wire yet. They enjoyed back-to-back 4-0 wins over Charleston Southern and #20 Duke in their opening weekend of tournament play. They were pushed hard by #11 Michigan in the round of sixteen, but advanced behind a 4-2 win. On Sunday, against #14 Stanford, the Bulldogs earned their semifinal spot with a 4-1 victory, but half of the singles matches went to third sets.

Probable Lineups

Doubles:

  • Court 1: #9 Robin Anderson/Jennifer Brady (UCLA) vs. #11 Lauren Herring/Ellen Perez (GEORGIA)
  • Court 2: #3 Catherine Harrison/Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) vs. #43 Kennedy Shaffer/Silvia Garcia (GEORGIA)
  • Court 3: Chanelle Van Nguyen/Terri Fleming (UCLA) vs. #85 Caroline Brinson/Hannah King (GEORGIA)
Singles:

What to Expect

The fact that half of Georgia's players are freshman could be a factor in today's contest. Although these freshman have played in a lot of important, pressure-filled matches this season, the pressure increases with every step towards the championship match.

The fact that both teams played quarterfinal matches yesterday will certainly be a factor, but it's impossible to predict how well each team will recover from Sunday's action. The Bulldogs were forced to work marginally harder to secure their 4-1 win over Stanford, but not enough harder to make recovery significantly more difficult.

The key doubles matchup is likely to be on court 1. If Anderson and Brady can win on the top court, the Bruins should be able to grab the doubles point. In singles, I think the matchup to watch will be on court 4. If Harrison can rebound from yesterday's performance, the Bruins will be well-positioned to win three of the duels on the middle courts.

Prediction: The Bruins hold the edge in talent, and they have a bigger edge when it comes to tournament experience. If their recovery from yesterday's action has been properly managed, UCLA should advance to the finals. UCLA 4, Georgia 2.

Go BRUINS!

(Please note that if the weather does not cooperate and the match is moved indoors, there is no live video. Also, there are different links for live scoring depending on where the match is played.)