Tuesday, January 28

Men’s tennis to kick off NCAAs with home-court advantage against Idaho

Keegan Smith has won 13 consecutive singles matches and posts a 36-6 overall singles record for the year. The freshman will begin his first NCAA tournament Saturday as the No. 2-seeded Bruins host Idaho. (Ken Shin/Daily Bruin staff)

Home-court advantage – something the Bruins have enjoyed all season long.

“Every year I dread having to think about going on the road for these two matches,” said coach Billy Martin. “We’ve got to take advantage of the fact that we’re at home, but we can’t think that teams are going to come in here and just roll over and die for us.”

No. 2-seeded UCLA men’s tennis (26-2, 8-0 Pac-12) will face Idaho (15-7, 10-1 Big Sky) on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA championships at the Los Angeles Tennis Center – a place where the Bruins haven’t lost a match in three years. The winner will advance to take on either Texas Tech or San Diego on Sunday.

“It gives us some confidence to play here and then head into NCAAs,” said senior Logan Staggs. “It puts less pressure on us getting in a couple matches before heading into playing the best teams.”

For the second consecutive year, the Vandals punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament after winning the Big Sky championship. Idaho has won its last three out of four conference championships and has been to the NCAA tournament four times since 2014.

In both 2014 and 2015, the Vandals were eliminated in the opening round by the Trojans. Last year, the Stanford Cardinal swept Idaho 4-0 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“We know virtually nothing about (Idaho),” Martin said. “I’ve tried to do a little bit of research and talk to a few people who have either played them or know them, but I’m hopeful we can get through that.”

Though UCLA has yet to play Texas Tech or USD this season, both teams are typically mainstays in the Bruins’ regular season schedule. UCLA last faced USD in 2016 when the Bruins swept the Toreros two times.

Earlier this season Texas Tech narrowly defeated USD and will face off again Saturday morning prior to the UCLA match.

“We’re all going to be out here watching both doubles and singles,” Martin said. “Not only the coaches, but the team so that if we do have good luck on Saturday against Idaho, we have a bit of familiarity with who we’re going to play.”

Since defeating USC in the conference championships, UCLA has had nearly two weeks off.

“We joked when we had practice last Friday that we’ve been playing matches for the past two and half months on Fridays,” Martin said. “It gets to the point where you’re ready and we want to get on with the show.”

Should the Bruins come out with two wins this weekend, they will advance to the round of 16 in Wake Forest, North Carolina, beginning May 18.

“We haven’t lost yet this year at our house,” said freshman Keegan Smith. “Hopefully we can keep that tradition up when we play these two teams this weekend.”

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Sports reporter

Rae is currently a Sports reporter. She was previously a contributor on the men's tennis and men's water polo beats.

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