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Showdown Sunday: Tough Tests for UCLA Softball & Men's Volleyball

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#3 UCLA Men's Volleyball is in Palo Alto toady for a midday showdown against #4 Stanford that has serious implications for the MPSF title race. #8 UCLA Softball closes out tournament play at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic with an early morning game against fourth-ranked LSU before facing Pacific in the nightcap.

@UCLAMVB

It's another busy Sunday for UCLA's Olympic sports programs starting with our eighth-ranked softball team taking on fourth-ranked LSU at 9:00 AM and ending with an early evening showdown between our 12th-ranked women's basketball team and #7 Oregon State. In between, there's an important volleyball match between the third-ranked Bruins and the fourth-ranked Stanford Cardinal, a midday softball game between the Bruins and the Pacific Tigers, the third game in UCLA Baseball's three-game series against the Tar Heels, and UCLA Women's Gymnastics in Seattle.

I'll have a separate preview and game thread for tonight's clash between the Bruins and the Beavers, and orlandobruin will have a special game thread for the action from Jackie Robinson Stadium that will include a recap of yesterday's 6-5 win over North Carolina in game 2 of the series.

#8 UCLA Softball (6-2)

Game 1 Opponent: #4 LSU (7-2)

When: 9:00 AM PST, Sunday, February 21, 2016

Where: Big League Dreams Sports Park, Cathedral City, CA

Audio: None

Video: Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic Live Stream

Live StatsUCLA StatBroadcast

Game 2 Opponent: Pacific (5-4)

When: 11:30 AM PST, Sunday, February 21, 2016

Where: Big League Dreams Sports Park, Cathedral City, CA

Audio: None

Video: Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic Live Stream

Live StatsUCLA StatBroadcast

UCLA Tournament Preview | UCLA Tournament NotesMary Nutter Collegiate Classic Website

The Bruins earned a split yesterday by beating two teams: Cal Poly and themselves. In the first game, the Bruins committed four errors which gifted Notre Dame 5 unearned runs and resulted in an ugly 8-6 loss. In the nightcap, UCLA put nine runs on the scoreboard in the first two innings, and Selina Ta'amilo struck out seven in four innings to earn her fifth victory of the season.

In my preview of yesterday's doubleheader, I speculated that Coach Inouye-Perez would start Ta'amilo in game 1 since Notre Dame was the better of UCLA's two opponents, and Johanna Grauer hadn't been particularly effective in her first few starts. However, Coach Inouye-Perez obviously thought otherwise, and Grauer had a fairly typical outing in which she allows about 2 baserunners per inning. Through the first four innings, Grauer generally worked her way out of trouble and managed to hold the Fighting Irish to a pair of runs. At that point UCLA held a 4-2 lead and appeared to be in control of the game.

Then everything fell apart in the fifth inning. Notre Dame bunched a few hits, and the Bruins contributed a pair of errors that led to five runs, four of which were unearned, and Ta'amilo was summoned to close out the inning. To UCLA's credit, the Bruins fought back to score two in the bottom half of the inning, and threatened again in the seventh but the Bruins failed to bring the baserunners home.

In addition to committing four errors, UCLA left 13 runners on base. While I still question the decision to have Grauer start the opener, it's not her fault that the Bruins gave Notre Dame extra outs. With Grauer in the circle, the margin of error is small, especially since she isn't a strikeout pitcher--she pitches to contact and relies on her teammates to make plays. When they don't, it results in a lot of damage.

Furthermore, Coach Inouye-Perez needs to manage her lineup and strategy to match the pitcher she has in the circle. In my opinion, it doesn't make a lot of sense to play small ball when there's good reason to expect the other team will score 5 or more runs. That means that the batting order should be adjusted accordingly.

In game 2 with Ta'amilo in the circle, the results were substantially better, though Coach Inouye-Perez ought to be concerned about the fact that UCLA committed two more errors (in five innings). In particular, Kylee Perez already has three errors in eight games at second base. Perez played right field last season, and that seemed like a good fit for her since she has a terrific arm. Her arm strength is wasted at second of course, and freshman Zoe Shaw--a middle infielder in high school--is now playing right field. There may be logic to setup, but I don't see it so far.

Fortunately UCLA's batters made sure the result in game 2 was never in doubt. Perez had four RBI in the first two innings with a double and a home run, and Gabrielle Maurice drove in three with two hits. Allexis Bennett added a pair of hits in the nightcap and had five hits for the day.

Ta'amilo did the rest. She held the Mustangs to one run and Johanna Grauer pitched a hitless inning of relief to wrap up UCLA's 9-1 five inning win.

I should probably stop trying to predict how Coach Inouye-Perez will set up the Bruins for any particular game, but I would pitch Ta'amilo against LSU this morning and use Grauer against Pacific in game 2. That should give the Bruins the best opportunity for a sweep, which is what good teams try to do. But however Coach Inouye-Perez sets up her pitching rotation for today's pair of games, the Bruin bats will have to deliver to for UCLA to earn a sweep.

Go BRUINS!

#3 UCLA Men's Volleyball (13-2, 9-2)

Opponent: #4 Standford (11-2, 9-2)

When: 11:00 AM PST, Sunday, February 21, 2016

Where: Maples Pavilion, Palo Alto, CA

Audio: None

Video: Pac-12 Networks

Live Stats: None

UCLA Official Game Preview

UCLA's sweep of Pepperdine on Friday was important for two reasons. First, after a two weeks of slow starts and inconsistent volleyball, the Bruins put together a much more consistent effort from the first serve of the match to the last. The results should give UCLA's confidence a boost heading into Maples Pavilion today.

Second, the Bruins' convincing win over Pepperdine kept UCLA in contact with its three conference rivals at the top of the MPSF standings. #1 Long Beach State, #2 BYU, #3 UCLA, and #4 Stanford are currently tied for first with each team carrying two conference losses. Because the Bruins still have two games to play against Stanford and BYU, and because UCLA beat the 49ers in their first meeting and still have one to play, the Bruins are still in complete control of their destiny in the conference title race. However, if they lose to the Cardinal today, it will make the situation a bit less clear, especially since Stanford has already played BYU twice and Long Beach State once; Stanford's remaining games are less difficult than the games UCLA still has left to play.

Although the Bruins didn't blitz Pepperdine in the first set on Friday, they did (barely) enough to win it. UCLA need two comebacks in that first set before catching the Waves at 18, and then were forced to fight off several set points before finally pulling out a 32-30 first set victory. The Bruins steadily improved after that, hitting nearly .380 the rest of the way while holding Pepperdine under .120.

The final set scores were 32-30, 25-21, 25-19. Jake Arnitz led the UCLA attack with 16 kills while hitting a sizzling .556. Micah Ma'a was the only other Bruin with double digit kills; he added 11 kills to go with his 21 assists.

Junior middle blocker Mitch Stahl had a quiet game in attack as UCLA ran very little of its offense through the middle. The Bruins will have to do a better job of making the middle attack an option today, especially after JT Hatch seemed to regress a bit against the Waves.

Although Pepperdine is a top-10 team, it is a notch below Stanford. The Cardinal have played very good volleyball the past two weeks, with four straight wins in which they dropped a single set (to Hawai'i). Stanford's two losses in 2016 were away from home and against the top two teams in the MPSF currently; the first was a 3-2 loss to BYU in Provo back in January, and the second was a 3-1 loss to Long Beach State at the beginning of February.

Stanford is coming off its best performance of the season. On Friday, the Cardinal demolished #10 UC Santa Barbara 25-19, 25-20, 25-8. Stanford hit over .500 for the match and served up 8 aces. As usual, Stanford was led by its outside hitters redshirt junior Gabriel Vega and senior Hayden Madison. The Bruins will be in deep trouble if they can't find a way to slow down that pair today.

The Cardinal have two outstanding senior leaders. MB Conrad Kaminsky was an AVCA All-America honorable mention the past two seasons, and 6'8" senior setter James Shaw was an AVCA Second Team All-American as a sophomore.

As you can undoubtedly tell, Stanford has a lot of experience in their starting lineup, and partly because of that, Stanford is excellent at opening and closing out matches. In 2016, the Cardinal have won every first set in each of their 13 matches. Considering UCLA's tendency to start slowly, Coach Speraw will have to make sure the Bruins are ready to go from today's first serve.

Go BRUINS!