Los Angeles • Taylor Sander stood back and watched as freshman Ben Patch lifted BYU early in the first game of the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Tournament Semifinals at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
But when things got dicey for the Cougars, Sander swooped in and saved the day.
Patch had a kill, a block and an ace in the game’s first nine points and Sander closed out Penn State with nine third-game kills as the All-American duo spurred BYU’s 3-0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-22) win over the Nittany Lions on Thursday night.
The Cougars advance to Saturday’s championship match to face UC Irvine, which defeated Loyola-Chicago, 3-0 (26-24, 25-18, 29-27). BYU will be seeking its fourth national championship and its first since 2004; the at-large Anteaters, last year’s NCAA champions, are also after their fourth title.
“This is a big moment for us,” Patch said. “We actually got advice from another coach in our league [USC’s Bill Ferguson], that the teams that lose in these big moments are teams that try to do something spectacular. Tonight, I think we demonstrated we’re not trying to do something spectacular, we’re just doing our brand of volleyball.”
Nittany Lions coach Mark Pavlik might disagree — these Cougars are quite the sight.
Patch had 12 kills, 3.5 blocks and five digs, Sander had 17 kills and seven digs and Devin Young added 3.5 blocks for BYU, which owned the net.
BYU had 12.5 blocks to just two for the Nittany Lions, who could not discover a plan to counter Patch and Sander on the outside. It took Penn State more than two games to get its first block; by then, BYU already had 11.5 as a team.
“The men’s game is won and lost at the net, and BYU has always had a strong blocking team,” Pavlik said. “Most of those blocks came in transition early on.”
The Cougars, winners of six straight and 18 of 19, had seven first-game blocks to zero for Penn State and held the Nittany Lions to a miniscule .080 attack percentage. BYU’s imposing front line flustered Penn State, which committed nine attack errors in Game 1. The Cougars blitzed Penn State in Game 2 with an 11-3 run, punctuated by a six-point streak behind server Phil Fuchs. Patch took the lead with four kills and Sander had three in the game, as BYU hit an impressive .391 as a team while holding the Nittany Lions to .067.
Penn State jumped to a 7-2 lead in Game 3 before BYU crept back, and the Nittany Lions grabbed a 19-15 lead before the Cougars rebounded as Sander took over. BYU tied the game at 21 on a Sander kill, then used a 4-1 streak to ice the game with Josue Rivera banging one of his five kills to seal the championship berth.
“In that third set, it’s not that we were playing different than we usually do, but you kind of get down, kind of get in this lull,” Patch said. “There’s a point where all of us kind of clicked, and it was, ‘Now let’s come together, let’s play our volleyball and let’s grind out every single point.’ ”
Storylines BYU wins in straight sets
R Ben Patch leads BYU with 12 kills, 3.5 blocks and five digs, and Taylor Sander adds 17 kills and seven digs in the semifinal win.
• BYU will face UC Irvine in the final match on Saturday.