Provo • Having pushed BYU to five sets in their previous visit to Smith Fieldhouse, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos thought they were going to “come in here and take these guys,” in the words of star outside hitter Matt Hanley.
But the visitors left the wild and raucous atmosphere in front of 2,525 rowdy fans demoralized by BYU’s powerful, Michael Hatch-led block, their confidence punctured by more laser kills from Taylor Sander.
It all added up to a 3-0 sweep for the top-seeded Cougars in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men’s volleyball semifinal match and probably ensures that BYU makes it into next week’s NCAA Tournament, regardless of what happens in Saturday’s championship match.
The Cougars (20-8), who won by scores of 25-19, 25-22 and 25-20, will face red-hot Stanford in the 7 p.m. MDT final after the Cardinal blew out Pepperdine 3-0 in the first semifinal.
“Boy, they looked really, really impressive tonight,” BYU coach Chris McGown said of third-seeded Stanford.
So did BYU, although Sander said after making 15 kills and hitting .500 that the Cougars weren’t nearly as sharp and didn’t play nearly as cleanly as they did in Saturday’s 3-0 quarterfinal win over USC.
The Cougars hit a rather average .273 and committed 15 service errors. They arguably won it with their blocks, 17.5 as a team. Hatch had a career-high 13 block-assists, and was called the “man of the hour” by Sander when he entered the post-match interview room.
“They put up a huge block in our face,” UCSB coach Rick McLaughlin said.
Third-year BYU coach Chris McGown said he can’t remember a three-set match in which the Cougars had that many total team blocks.
“Especially for three sets, that is a really, really high number,” McGown said. “We just got in some good spots.”
The Cougars committed five service errors early, but put together an 8-2 run midway through the opening set and rolled to a 25-19 win. Sander had six kills, but the star of the first set was Tim Dobbert, the big freshman from Germany, who had four kills and two blocks.
He also made the final kill of the match, after telling setter Robbie Sutton that he wanted the honors.
“I had the right timing [on blocks and kills] all night,” Dobbert said in broken English.
BYU swept Stanford in the regular season, winning 3-1 in Provo and 3-2 in Palo Alto, Calif., and the winning squad will get the league’s automatic berth in the NCAAs. The losing squad will more than likely get an at-large berth, but Sander said the Cougars are peaking at the right time and don’t want to lose an ounce of momentum.
“Having that crowd behind us is huge,” he said.
BYU 3,UC Santa Barbara 0
• Michael Hatch records a career-high 13 blocks for the Cougars.
• Four-time All-American Taylor Sander hits .500 and records 15 kills.
• The Cougars (20-8) will play Stanford on Saturday at 7 p.m. MDT in the championship match.