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Wednesday Night Game Thread: UCLA Men's Volleyball vs. UCSB & UCLA Softball vs. Michigan

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UCLA Men's Volleyball and UCLA Softball both face top-10 opponents tonight. UCLA Men's Volleyball hosts #9 UCSB in the John Wooden Center and UCLA Softball welcomes #2 Michigan to Easton Stadium.

@Pac12Networks

#4 UCLA Men's Volleyball (15-3, 11-3)

Opponent: #9 UC Santa Barbara (13-6, 9-5)

When: 7:00 PM PST, Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Where: John Wooden Center, Los Angeles, CA

Audio: Bruin Live Audio

Video: UCLA Live Stream

Live StatsUCLA StatBroadcast

UCLA Official Game Preview

Although the Bruins won both of their matches last week, it's too early to say that they're back to playing their best volleyball. Neither of last week's opponents--Cal Baptist and Southern Cal--are top-10 teams or MPSF title contenders, so the real test begins tonight at the John Wooden Center against the ninth-ranked Gauchos. On Friday, the Bruins will travel to Santa Barbara to play the away leg of the two-match set.

UCSB won't challenge for the MPSF title this season, but the Gauchos are currently in fifth place, just two games behind the Bruins. But Santa Barbara's record against elite teams isn't good; the Gauchos are 0-4 against the top three teams in the conference (Long Beach State, BYU, and Stanford), and managed to win just 2 sets in those four matches.

Last week UCSB swept USC and Cal Baptist in Rob Gym. UCLA beat the same two teams last week, sweeping Cal Baptist at Pauley Pavilion and defeating Southern Cal 3-1 (25-16, 25-20, 25-27, 25-16) at the Galen Center.

Aside from a hitting slump in the third set, the Bruins played well against the Trojans. UCLA hit a strong .386 for the match while holding USC to a .187 hitting percentage. JT Hatch led the Bruins in kills with 13, but the key to UCLA's attack was the efficiency of the middle hitters. Oliver Martin and Mitch Stahl combined for 14 kills while hitting nearly .740.

Hatch and Hagen Smith had outstanding all-around games. In addition to leading the Bruins in kills, Hatch tallied four service aces and seven digs. Smith had seven kills (while hitting .875), 23 set assists, 3 aces, and five digs.

Overall the Bruins had 10 aces and were very successful in keeping the Trojans under pressure for most of the match. Serving was a key element of the Bruins' early season success, so it's a positive sign to that part of UCLA's arsenal return.

If the Bruins are going to stay in contention for the MPSF regular season title, they'll have to win both matches against UCSB this week. With three teams in front of them, the Bruins simply can't afford to lose any more ground in the standings.

Go BRUINS!

#13 UCLA UCLA Softball (9-6)

Opponent: #2 MIchigan (12-2)

When: 7:00 PM PST, Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Where: Easton Stadium, Los Angeles, CA

AudioBruin Live Audio

Video: Pac-12 Networks

Live StatsUCLA StatBroadcast

UCLA Official Game PreviewGame Notes

The Bruins sure miss Ally Carda!

To the extent that we can generalize what we learned last weekend, it's this: the Bruins aren't going to go very far unless their pitching improves substantially between now and the end of the season. Either the current pitchers have to raise their game, or the Bruins' injured hurlers (Paige McDuffee and Rachel Garcia) have to be effective when they return to the diamond, whenever that may be.

How bad was UCLA's pitching last week? In five games the Bruins surrendered 30 runs in 33 innings. That won't get the job done, especially since the Bruins aren't slugging the ball like they did last season.

It could have been worse. The Bruins managed to win two of the five contests, scoring 23 runs in the process. But with UCLA's pitchers allowing opponents a .305 batting average, the Bruins really need to score runs in bunches to keep up with their opponents.

But that brings me to the Bruins' other substantial problem. Coach Inouye-Perez isn't getting production from the bottom of the order. Only one of the freshman starters is hitting over .200, and that creates a real drag on UCLA's ability to put together big innings. It also doesn't help that the freshmen have almost half of the team's strikeouts.

Of course it's reasonable to expect improvement in UCLA's pitching and its freshmen's hitting. However, the short term prospects for the Bruins don't look great, especially against top tier softball programs like Michigan's.

I have no doubt that Coach Inouye-Perez will be very patient with her young pitching staff and freshmen starters as she should. Let's hope it pays off before next year.

Go BRUINS!