The Bruins fell at the final hurdle to securing an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
No. 2 seed UCLA (24-7, 9-3 MPSF) men’s volleyball fell to No. 1 seed BYU (22-6, 10-2) in four sets Saturday night, losing the last three sets 25-21, 25-18 and 25-21.
“We just didn’t have a good offensive night,” said coach John Speraw. “I don’t know if there are any secrets to it, they just played good defense and we struggled to kill the ball against their big block.”
The Bruins won the first set 25-17, hitting for .348 as a team and logging a 72 percent sideout percentage. Sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah led UCLA with four kills and two aces in the first set. Gyimah would finish hitting for .533 with 10 kills.
The Bruins struggled offensively in the following sets, as their team hitting dropped below .200 in the final three sets. In the final three sets, UCLA hit for .172, .192 and .133. The Bruins finished with 20 attacking errors.
Only two UCLA players hit over .300: Gyimah and senior middle blocker Oliver Martin. Senior Jake Arnitz led the team with 11 kills but hit for .059 from the outside.
BYU struggled in the first set, hitting for -.048 as a team, with five kills. The Cougars improved in the final three sets, hitting for .298 and combining for 36 kills.
Senior opposite Christian Hessenauer said BYU outperformed UCLA offensively later in the match.
“They played us pretty well, they were on tonight and we weren’t so great,” Hessenauer said. “We just weren’t hitting it hard enough. They were hitting balls off the hands and we were not, so we couldn’t score points that way. The last sets we were kind of scrambling and didn’t play that well.”
Serving was an issue for both teams in Provo, Utah, with the Bruins racking up 24 service errors and the Cougars making 19. Speraw said BYU’s constant pressure ultimately won the service battle in the later stages of the match.
“The story of the match became the classic serve-pass battle and they ultimately served tougher than we did and got us into more trouble than we’ve been in lately,” Speraw said. “The first set we passed great and that just didn’t come together for us later.”
The Bruins had five aces to the Cougars’ six. Junior setter Micah Ma’a said BYU had a well-rounded attack from behind the serving line that made it difficult to face.
“They have some guys that can go back there and rip it and they also have some guys that keep the ball in and serve pretty strategically,” Ma’a said. “It’s constant service pressure so it’s tough on the passers.”
Outside hitter Brenden Sander led the Cougars, hitting for .485 with 18 kills and only two attacking errors. The Cougars finished with 11 total blocks, all team blocks. Speraw said the Bruins struggled to find ways through the Cougars’ block.
“They were serving tough and getting us out of system – I think it was easier for them to figure out where the ball was going,” Speraw said. “It’s hard to keep them guessing and in that situation, we were at a disadvantage.”
The victory marked the Cougars’ seventh MPSF championship win and third consecutive victory. They secured an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with the result.
UCLA finished the regular season No. 2 in the country and will still have a chance of claiming one of two at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. The NCAA men’s volleyball selection show will be held Sunday at 10 a.m. on NCAA.com.