An MPSF flavor will be in the building for this semifinal matchup between the MPSF champions in both the regular and postseason (BYU) and the runner-up right on their heels (UCLA). Additionally, the Bruins get to play host to this one in Pauley Pavillion, making it feel like an MPSF on steroids, where the winner heads to the National Championship match. With that importance, we breakdown how things could go as we are currently 3-0 in NCAA Tournament picks while being off just one set in two of the matches.
#2 BYU (22-6, MPSF Champs) vs. #3 UCLA (25-7, At-Large/MPSF)
|#||Conf. Rk.||#||Conf. Rk.|
|Kills Per Set||11.99||6th||13.02||1st|
|Assists Per Set||11.59||3rd||12.23||1st|
|Opponent Hitting %||.248||2nd||.235||1st|
|Blocks Per Set||2.81||1st||2.40||4th|
|Digs Per Set||7.39||7th||8.28||3rd|
|Aces Per Set||1.62||3rd||1.71||2nd|
OFFENSE: ADVANTAGE UCLA
The Bruins hold the stronger offense through balance and one of the game’s best setters in Micah Ma’a. While BYU has more of a one-two punch to collect a majority of kills with a third option over two kills per set, UCLA has four players over two kills per set. The difference between the two attacks isn’t much, so this isn’t an overwhelming advantage, but it does favor UCLA overall.
DEFENSE: ADVANTAGE BYU
These teams aren’t too far off defensively too, and the stats show that UCLA has been better in floor defense, but the big edge here comes from BYU’s block – which only ranks behind Lincoln Memorial in blocks per set. That isn’t just important in earning points, but also from a mental approach to the game. For some, getting blocked a few times – especially in this high of a stage – can be difficult to recover from and have a waning effect on the rest of the match. Not to mention it can also produce block touches to make things easier on the back row.
SERVING: ADVANTAGE BYU
UCLA may average more aces per set and can really effect opponents with their non-stop aggressive serve that gives a lack of care over errors to garner the positives of strong serving. Usually they would have the advantage because of that, but BYU has been almost as successful in notching aces per set, or at least close enough that the serve errors (4.16 serve errors per set for BYU vs. 5.22 serve errors per set for UCLA) make it a slight edge for the Cougars.
SERVE RECEIVE: ADVANTAGE UCLA
Sticking to the theme of the other categories, this shouldn’t be a decisive advantage either. It will be a unique challenge for the Cougars against the Bruins’ style though especially. Add to it that so far this season UCLA has given up 0.82 aces per set while BYU has given up 1.08 aces per set. That fails to tell the whole story, because strong passing to get the offense in system and give the setter as many options as possible is vital as well. Overall, the Bruins swing this category in their favor.
Once again, UCLA has the home-court advantage in this one. With the tournament at Pauley Pavillion in Los Angeles, they will feel comfortable about playing in their home gym. Add to it that they are 18-1 at home this season (compared to 6-6 on the road) and even swept BYU on this very court just a few weeks ago.
Brenden Sander (BYU) – Senior Outside Hitter
- 3.43 kills per set, .321 hitting percentage, 0.96 digs per set, 0.69 blocks per set, 0.39 aces per set
- Sander does a bit of everything, including in the serve (third on team in aces) and adding to the team block. Most importantly though is his offense. He wasn’t too efficient in the first match with UCLA, but got a solid total (10 kills, .161), then struggled in the loss (five kills, .048) before exploding in the MPSF Championship (18 kills, .485) as he looks to build off that performance against the Bruins.
Daenan Gyimah (UCLA) – Sophomore Middle Blocker
- 2.32 kills per set, .533 hitting percentage, 0.34 digs per set, 1.23 blocks per set, 0.37 aces per set
- Gyimah was a force in all three matches with BYU this season, totaling 2.9 kills per set on a .595 hitting percentage and 1.4 blocks per set. In the win he went for 12 kills (.625) and six blocks in three sets too. He’s not just arguably the top middle in the country, but also the key for the Bruins to overcoming the BYU block and providing one of their own.
PREDICTION: UCLA, 3-2
In the two previous BYU wins in the series, the Cougars found success in their strength: blocking. In the loss, UCLA equalized it (and even had more team blocks). The rest was pretty similar in terms of serving, with the offensive efficiency swaying to the team who was blocked less often. That would make you think BYU has the edge once again since that is their M.O., however UCLA showed they got the best of the Cougars last time at home in a sweep. This one should be closer, but in a toss-up match that home-court advantage swings the prediction the way of the Bruins.