Provo • Regardless of what happens in the MPSF volleyball championship game against Long Beach State at the Smith Fieldhouse, the No. 1-ranked BYU Cougars will make the NCAA Tournament's Final Four.
But that doesn't mean top-seeded BYU (24-4) won't be motivated to take down the third-seeded 49ers (24-7) in front of an expected crowd of more than 3,000 Saturday night, freshman star Ben Patch said Thursday night after the five-set come-from-behind win over UCLA.
"I think it is really important to us to win this conference tournament championship no matter if we are already going to get an at-large bid to the Final Four," Patch said. "I think it shows we don't take things lightly, and we are not taking this tournament lightly."
The first serve is 7 p.m. on BYUtv.
Long Beach State advanced with a five-set win over second-seeded UC Irvine just before the Cougars topped UCLA. The 22-20 fifth set was the third-longest fifth set in conference tournament history. Taylor Crabb had 23 kills and seven blocks as Long Beach defeated the Anteaters for the first time this season, after three losses to their rivals.
Conventional wisdom is that Long Beach must win Saturday to make the Final Four; if BYU wins, UC Irvine will most likely get the league's at-large berth.
"They are playing really well," BYU coach Chris McGown said of Long Beach. "It was an impressive win against a really good Irvine team. Like I say, they are playing for their lives, and they are going to be playing really hard on Saturday."
The Cougars did themselves a huge favor in beating the Bruins, because UCLA is hosting the Final Four at Pauley Pavilion but now most likely won't play in it.
"Our next goal is to win the conference tournament championship, and then we will focus on what's next after that," McGown said, but he also acknowledged eliminating the Bruins could pay dividends down the road.
The coach made a brilliant tactical move Thursday when BYU trailed UCLA 7-1 in the fourth set. He subbed out starting setter Ryan Boyce, a second-team all-conference performer and put in freshman backup setter Tyler Heap. With Heap in there, the Cougars scored seven of the next eight points.
"I felt like Boyce was trying to do a little too much ... trying to be a little too perfect," McGown said. "I thought, 'let's see if Heap can give us a change of pace.' Plus, he is going to distribute the ball a little differently than Boyce will, and it gives the opponent a different look."
O BYU vs. Long Beach State
When • Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where • Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
TV • BYUtv