Long Beach State and UCLA are your two NCAA finalists after the 49ers had to overcome the two-time defending champs while UCLA defeated Courthe team that downed them for their league title. That brings us to one final match, with the two southern California teams dueling it out for the third time this season. The first two went to Long Beach State, but one was with a key piece injured for UCLA, and the Bruins have this one at home. That should make for an enticing challenge, as the 49ers look for their second-ever title – with the first coming in 1991 – while the Bruins are searching for championship number 20 and first since 2006.
#1 LBSU (27-1, Big West Champs) vs./at #3 UCLA (26-7, At-Large/MPSF)
|#||Conf. Rk.||#||Conf. Rk.|
|Kills Per Set||12.91||2nd||13.11||1st|
|Assists Per Set||12.21||2nd||12.28||1st|
|Opponent Hitting %||.188||1st||.236||1st|
|Blocks Per Set||2.45||2nd||2.45||3rd|
|Digs Per Set||9.48||2nd||8.40||3rd|
|Aces Per Set||1.78||1st||1.71||2nd|
OFFENSE: TOO CLOSE TO CALL
This may represent the top two offenses in the country, or at least close to it. LBSU has even higher efficiency numbers while UCLA has some higher totals. Both teams have plenty of balance and options to throw it to with electric setters to get it started. Therefore we make this category too close to call as it is near a tie.
DEFENSE: ADVANTAGE LBSU
The 49ers opponent hitting percentage is only trumped by King, who plays in an easier league in the Conference Carolinas. Their combination of solid blocking and floor defense produces arguably the top overall defensive unit in the game, so while UCLA is strong on this end, it doesn’t overcome what the Beach has produced all season long.
SERVING: TOO CLOSE TO CALL
LBSU has slightly more aces per set this season, but both teams have produced a wealth of aces. The difference is that the 49ers are more efficient at it and produce less serve errors, but the flip side is that by UCLA doing so they will give up extra points in exchange for putting their opponent out of system more often.
SERVE RECEIVE: ADVANTAGE LBSU
The 49ers have so much balance and strong passing throughout that they’ve developed one of, if not the best, serve receive teams in the country. It’s what leads into their efficient attack with options and an elite setter, as they consistently can overcome strong serves more than most others to keep their offense in system. Again, this isn’t a weakness for UCLA, it’s just been better over the course of the season for Long Beach State – although they gave up 10 aces to Ohio State in the semifinals.
Long Beach State won both regular season matches with UCLA – one in Long Beach and another in Pauley Pavillion – in four sets. However, the meeting in Los Angeles – which came second in the series – was devoid of UCLA’s kills-leader Christian Hessenauer, who was injured. That ended up being the only loss at home this season for UCLA, who sports a 19-1 mark in Los Angeles too, just like this one is. The Bruins also have the championship pedigree and have won it all in nine of the last 10 championship matches at Pauley Pavillion as they look for title number 20.
While both teams have plenty of options and balance around the court and we get to see UCLA at home against LBSU with Hessenauer against TJ DeFalco and company, the setter battle highlights this match with arguably the two best in the entire country:
Josh Tuaniga (LBSU) – Junior Setter
- 10.50 assists per set, 1.74 digs per set, 0.60 kills per set, 0.44 blocks per set, 0.30 aces per set
- Tuaniga won the 2018 AVCA National Player of the Year award as he is the epicenter of an offense that leads the country in hitting percentage. Add to it that he’s been great in floor defense and in passing and you arrive to the reasoning that he claimed the award. He was immaculate in the first meeting with UCLA in Los Angeles too, totaling 57 assists, 13 digs and a pair of kills in just four sets of action. In total for his two matchups against the Bruins, he notched 12.0 assists per set and 2.6 digs per set.
Micah Ma’a (UCLA) – Junior Setter
- 10.56 assists per set, 1.72 digs per set, 0.73 kills per set, 0.58 blocks per set, 0.47 aces per set
- In his two matches with Long Beach State this season, Ma’a notched 10.9 assists per set, 2.5 digs per set and over a point per set on his own. All season long he’s been a highlight reel with not just his incredible ability to facilitate an offense but also to make diving plays, be ultra-aggressive and score points himself. It won’t be about the one-on-one matchup between him and Tuaniga, but you can guarantee Ma’a will want to win that individual battle and most importantly get the head-to-head victory with his high-level competitiveness.
PREDICTION: LBSU, 3-2
The home court advantage should make things very intriguing in this one, along with the Hessenauer factor at home unlike the last meeting between the two. That combined with Ma’a and the balance of UCLA gives them a great shot at winning the NCAA title, but LBSU has thwarted challenger after challenger this season. We predict they get pushed to the limit, but DeFalco, Kyle Ensing, Tuaniga and company have enough for the 49ers to win their first NCAA Championship in a little less than 30 years behind balanced attack and a smooth passing that could cancel out the aggressive UCLA serve.