Not much separated the BYU and UCLA men’s volleyball teams this season, and that was again the case in Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament semifinal match.
Using superior serving, the third-seeded Bruins took advantage of their home-court and home-crowd advantage and scraped past the second-seeded Cougars 3-1 at Pauley Pavilion to advance to Saturday’s championship match.
UCLA posted seven aces in the match, BYU none, as the Cougars played without one of their top servers, sophomore Cyrus Fa’alogo, for most of the match. BYU committed 24 service errors.
The scores were 25-22, 24-26, 29-27 and 25-19 as UCLA improved to 26-7 and BYU dropped to 22-7.
UCLA is now 19-1 at home this season, with two of those wins coming over BYU after the Cougars beat the Bruins twice in Provo.
Top-seeded Long Beach State eliminated two-time defending champion Ohio State 3-1 in Thursday’s opening match. The 49ers won the fourth set 32-30 to advance to the finals against the Bruins.
After winning the marathon third set, UCLA led throughout the fourth set and denied BYU’s bid to advance to the championship match for the third straight season.
The opening set was tight throughout.
Fa’alogo’s kill tied it at 18-18, but UCLA scored the next two points on kills by Daenan Gyimah and Dylan Misry and hung on to win the set. The Cougars protested UCLA’s 24th point, saying a kill attempt was wide, but officials granted the Bruins the point and then Brenden Sander’s attack was wide on match point.
UCLA led the second set 24-23 after kill by Gyimah, forcing a BYU timeout. The point came after BYU’s Storm Fa’agata-Tufuga lunged at a serve that was clearly going to be out.
The Cougars went ahead 25-24 on a double-contact call on UCLA, then won the set when Gabi Garcia Fernandez dinked a ball past UCLA’s three-way block.
Fa’alogo suffered a leg injury — possibly a cramp — in the third set and did not return.
The Cougars had a great chance to win the third set and go up 2-1, getting to set point three times, but could not finish.