The Bruins are one game away from the national championship final.
No. 3 seed UCLA (25-7, 9-3 MPSF) will face No. 2 seed BYU (22-6, 10-2) in the NCAA tournament semifinal Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins beat No. 6 seed Harvard in the quarterfinal in four sets to advance to the semifinal. The win was UCLA’s 18th win at home this season, with only one loss.
The Bruins haven’t claimed the national title since 2006. Junior outside hitter Dylan Missry said the UCLA squad isn’t troubled by the fact.
“I don’t think that any of us really dwell on that, since we haven’t won since 2006,” Missry said. “I mean, I was 9 years old. There’s not anything in my head that we’re trying to get over the hump.”
The Cougars are 35-32 all-time against the Bruins. The semifinal marks the fourth time UCLA will face BYU this season and the chance for BYU to reach its third straight title match. The Cougars have an advantage in the season series at 2-1. BYU swept UCLA in a regular season game and beat the Bruins in Provo, Utah, in the MPSF final.
Coach John Speraw said the Bruins expect a physical team and tactical service.
“They’re very big and physical and have a great block,” Speraw said. “They’ve done a really good job of float-serving us. They’ve scored a lot of points with that serve when we were there for the MPSF finals.”
Sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah ranks second in team scoring with 267 kills, as well as leading the nation in hitting percentage, hitting for .533. Junior setter Micah Ma’a said finding the balance between setting the ball to the middles and finding other holes in the defense is a challenge.
“We have a lot of guys who come from a past history of getting every ball and kind of being the guy or being able to have a rhythm,” Ma’a said. “For me, I’m still setting a bunch of guys who can put the ball away.”
BYU has been dominant at home this season, with an 11-3 record. However, the Cougars were swept by the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. BYU hit for .247 as a team, below its season average of .312.
The Cougars rank second in the nation in blocking with 2.81 per set and are 18-1 this season when out-blocking their opponent. BYU is also 14-1 when winning the first set of matches.
BYU’s opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez was named the AVCA Newcomer of the Year after leading the Cougars in scoring with 368 kills. Garcia Fernandez has averaged about 13 kills and a .303 hitting percentage in three games against UCLA this season.
The Cougars had four squad members receive AVCA All-America honors other than Garcia Fernandez. Outside hitter Brenden Sander was named to the AVCA first team and middle blocker Price Jarman and setter Leo Durkin were selected as honorable mentions.
The winner of this semifinal will return Saturday to play in the championship final against the victor of the Ohio State (25-5, 11-3 MIVA) and Long Beach State (26-1, 9-1 Big West) match at 5 p.m.