Opponent: #4 Vanderbilt (24-6)
When: Tuesday, May 19, 3:00 PM PDT
Where: Hurd Tennis Center, Waco, TX (or Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center)
Live Stats (Outdoor Courts): Baylor Live Stats
Live Stats (Indoor Courts): Baylor Live Stats
Live Blog: Baylor In-Match Blog
The Bruins' national title defense is almost complete. One final opponent stands in their way of winning the NCAA Championship for a second straight season: #4 Vanderbilt.
The Bruins Fight Back against the Bulldogs
In the semifinals yesterday, the Bruins battled the resilient Georgia Bulldogs. As I mentioned in my match preview, Georgia is particularly formidable in doubles. When you take into account the poor performances UCLA has been getting from its No. 3 doubles team recently, it meant that the Bruins found themselves in a hole from the opening serve. Georgia jumped out to a 4-0 lead on court 3 and cruised to a far too easy 8-2 win against Chanelle Van Nguyen and Kristin Wiley.
Although the Bruins held early leads on both of the other courts, the Bulldogs managed to pull even at 5-5 in both contests. Eventually the duel on court 1 headed to a tiebreaker while the Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips were serving to stay alive at 6-7. Just as Georgia moved ahead 5-1 in the court 1 tiebreaker, the Waco weather interrupted play again. This time the delay was caused by lightning and lasted a little over an hour. When play resumed, the Bulldogs finished off the tiebreaker on court 1 8-7(1) to clinch the doubles point.
The Bruins responded in singles with first set wins on three of the top five courts. On the top court, Robin Anderson just couldn't manage to win key points in the first set, leading to a first set loss, 3-6. Kyle McPhillips also dropped her first set 3-6. Suddenly the contest on court 6 became the key battle.
Kaitlin Ray fought back repeatedly from deficits to take the first set to a tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, Ray raced to a 5-1 lead and held off #104 Caroline Brinson to claim a crucial first set victory, 7-6(3).
Meanwhile Jennifer Brady's fine run of form continued. She won the Bruins' first point of the day when she shut out her opponent in the second set to win her duel 6-3, 6-0. Catherine Harrison soon followed suit. She earned UCLA's second point of the day with a 6-1, 6-3 victory on court 4.
While Chanelle Van Nguyen was grinding away on court 2. Robin Anderson's difficulties continued on the top court as she fell behind 0-3 in the second set. But as everyone should know by now, never count out Robin Anderson. As Van Nguyen was winding up a 6-3, 6-3 win on court 2, Anderson turned things around, winning six straight games to pull even at a set apiece in her contest. On court 5, Kyle McPhillips had also pulled even by winning the second set 4-6.
Holding a 3-1 lead, the Bruins needed a point from one of the remaining three remaining contests. It came on court 6 from Kaitlin Ray. After winning the first set, Ray methodically built a lead in the second set and refused to let go of it. When she finished off her opponent 7-6(3), 6-2, Ray earned UCLA's fourth singles point and the match winner.
The final scoreline shows the importance of Anderson's and McPhillips comeback; if Ray had stumbled, the Bruins were still in good position to win points on the last two courts:
#6 UCLA 4, #7 Georgia 1
- 1. #11 Herring/Perez (UGA) def. #9 Anderson/Brady (UCLA) 8-7(1)
- 2. #43 Garcia/Shaffer (UGA) vs. #3 Harrison/McPhillips (UCLA) 7-6, unfinished
- 3. #85 Brinson/King (UGA) def. Van Nguyen/Kristin Wiley (UCLA) 8-2
- 1. #5 Lauren Herring (UGA) vs. #1 Robin Anderson (UCLA) 6-3, 3-6, unfinished
- 2. #21 Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) def. #63 Ellen Perez (UGA) 6-3, 6-3
- 3. #47 Jennifer Brady (UCLA) def. #94 Silvia Garcia (UGA) 6-3, 6-0
- 4. #33 Catherine Harrison (UCLA) def. #59 Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) 6-1, 6-3
- 5. #88 Hannah King (UGA) vs. #35 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) 6-3, 4-6, 1-0, unfinished
- 6. #109 Kaitlin Ray (UCLA) def. #104 Caroline Brinson (UGA) 7-6(3), 6-2
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 Commodores
Vanderbilt (24-6) is fourth in the ITA national rankings. The Commodores' six losses are all against top-15 teams (#1 Southern Cal, #3 California, #7 Georgia, #10 Texas A&M, #12 Oklahoma State, and #14 Stanford). Importantly, four of those losses came in February, which indicates how well Vanderbilt has played in the last three months. Also, it's worth noting that the Bruins have wins against Stanford and Texas A&M, and both wins and losses against USC and Georgia.
Vanderbilt has enjoyed an impressive run to the NCAA championship game. The Commodores opened with back-to-back 4-0 wins over Murray State and #42 Oklahoma. Vanderbilt extended its shutout streak with a 4-0 victory over #21 Clemson in the round of 16 in Waco. In the quarterfinals, the Commodores got all that they could handle from #5 Florida before finally squeezing out a 4-3 win. Yesterday, in the other semifinal, Vanderbilt avenged their early season loss to Southern Cal by pulling off the upset.
Although Vanderbilt blanked the Trojans 4-0, the final score flatters the Commodores; in four of the six singles competitions, Vanderbilt was forced into third sets, and those sets were fiercely contested. The fact that Vanderbilt was forced to play more tennis than UCLA in the semifinals may give the Bruins a very slight edge in recovery for today's final.
Vanderbilt has five players ranked in the ITA top-125: #8 Sydney Campbell, #42 Astra Sharma, #61 Courtney Colton, #96 Frances Altick, and #120 Marie Casares. The Commodores also have two strong doubles teams: #18 Ashleigh Antal & Astra Sharma and #20 Courtney Colton & Sydney Campbell.
Vanderbilt certainly doesn't lack experience. Their starting six features two seniors, two juniors, a sophomore and a redshirt freshman. Although the Commodores haven't played in an NCAA final recently, they have plenty of experience in NCAA tournament action. They won't be overwhelmed by the occasion.
- Court 1: #9 Robin Anderson/Jennifer Brady (UCLA) vs. #20 Courtney Colton/Sydney Campbell (Vanderbilt)
- Court 2: #3 Catherine Harrison/Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) vs. #18 Ashleigh Antal/Astra Sharma (Vanderbilt)
- Court 3: Chanelle Van Nguyen/Kristin Wiley (UCLA) vs. Marie Casares/Frances Altick (Vanderbilt)
- Court 1: #1 Robin Anderson (UCLA) vs. #8 Sydney Campbell (Vanderbilt)
- Court 2: #21 Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) vs. #42 Astra Sharma (Vanderbilt)
- Court 3: #47 Jennifer Brady (UCLA) vs. #96 Frances Altick (Vanderbilt)
- Court 4: #33 Catherine Harrison (UCLA) vs. #61 Courtney Colton (Vanderbilt)
- Court 5: #35 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) vs. #120 Marie Casares (Vanderbilt)
- Court 6: #109 Kaitlin Ray (UCLA) vs. Ashleigh Antal (Vanderbilt)
What to Expect
There isn't a lot separating these two teams. The Bruins hold the advantage in most of the matchups, but the Commodores have been hot in the tournament and have played very well in the second half of the season. Based on talent, the Bruins have the edge; based on recent form, Vanderbilt gets the nod.
Obviously, the ability of each team to recover from two consecutive days of tournament action will be an incredibly important factor today. Although I have no way to determine how well each team will respond today, it's clear from the Bruins' response yesterday that they see these matches as marathons, not sprints.
Unless the Bruins have found a way to remedy their problems at court 3 in doubles, UCLA will have an uphill battle to keep Vanderbilt from winning the doubles point. That means that the Bruins will probably have to win the majority of the singles contests, and it all starts with Robin Anderson. This past week, Anderson has started slowly in matches; she can't afford to do that today.
I think the key battle will be on court 5. In last year's national championship against North Carolina, Kyle McPhillips won the decider, so she's proven that she can deliver in pressure situations. She may need to produce a similar performance today.
Prediction: UCLA edges Vanderbilt, 4-3.
Go BRUINS! Bring home #113!
(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.)