Los Angeles • Seven points: The difference between success and failure, victory and defeat, massive championship trophy and puny consolation plaque.
Thing is, staring into the bloodshot eyes of the BYU Cougars, you get the feeling they know where each and every point went wrong.
There were tears after the Cougars watched UC Irvine hoist its second consecutive title prize after a 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 26-24) win, and they were tears of regret.
BYU led each game — including the second game 11-4 — only to watch the Anteaters handle the pressure to perfection, coming up big when it mattered most.
“I figured we were in for a long match,” Cougars coach Chris McGown said. “Until that last ball went into the stands, I was sure we were going five and we were going to prevail.”
Done in on the blocks, where the Anteaters led 17-6, and because of UC Irvine’s balance, BYU goes back to the drawing board, trying to figure out where it all went awry.
Here’s where: Down 24-21 in Game 3, the Anteaters reeled off five straight points, registering three consecutive blocks to close the game and the match.
By then, UC Irvine had long since figured out Taylor Sander and Ben Patch, and the Cougars had little else to turn to.
Sander had a match-high 20 kills but eight attack errors — including two on the Anteaters’ back-to-back game-closing blocks — and Patch was held to one of his worst games in his sensational freshman season, hitting just .091 with seven kills.
“They just executed,” McGown said. “We passed OK for the first of those few points, but they’re big guys, right, and they got into good position defensively. … That’s the thing we’ve been doing all season, and when we needed to, we couldn’t get that point.”
BYU found itself in such a position because UC Irvine found itself in such good position all night.
Setter Chris Austin mixed the ball around as if he knew exactly where the Cougars weren’t, finishing with 43 assists to go along with four digs and 3.5 blocks. Three Anteaters — Tournament MVP Connor Hughes, Kevin Tillie and Zack La Cavera — had 11 kills, and Scott Kevorken and Colin Mehring each added seven.
“It was about matchups — knowing who was on the other side of the net and when,” Austin said. “We knew this team would key on our quick and big, which is what I like to set a lot, so I made sure our pins were active early, especially on the short side.”
Added UC Irvine coach David Kniffin: “Chris and I had a very clear vision of what we wanted to do tonight. There were one or two sets that if you ask him, he might take back.”
Top-seeded BYU, which also led Game 1 23-22 before faltering, won its first two matches of the season against the No. 2-seed Anteaters.
Kniffin said in the pre-championship news conference that he had a trick or two left for the Cougars, that he hadn’t shown BYU all his cards.
“I got no cards left,” Kniffin said. “That was everything. It had less to do with me and more to do with the personnel we have on the court. … We have some guys who, when the lights come on, they come up, and you can’t see that during the season.”