5-set thriller advances BYU to MPSF Championship

(Photo by BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

PROVO, Utah - After going down 2-0 in the match, the No. 1-seed BYU men's volleyball came back and defeated UCLA 3-2 (23-25, 21-25, 25-18, 26-24, 15-10) on Thursday to advance to the MPSF Championship match this Saturday at 7 p.m. MDT in the Smith Fieldhouse against No. 3-seed Long Beach State.

Saturday's conference championship appearance will be BYU's first since the 2008 season.

The Cougars had three players record double-digit kills against the Bruins, led by Josue Rivera with 19. Teammates Ben Patch and Taylor Sander contributed 17 and 12, respectively. BYU hit .322 for the game compared to UCLA's .307 and recorded 22.5 team blocks to the Bruins' 11.5.

"It was a phenomenal match," BYU head coach Chris McGown said. "Both teams played really well and at a really high level. We were mystified the first two sets on how to defend UCLA. I thought UCLA was as good as I've seen a volleyball team play for those first two sets. I credit our guys with having the composure to come back with a lot of pressure. We served the ball really well tonight and we did a lot of good things at the net and blocking a lot of balls. I can't be more proud of the boys and the effort that they put in and the way that they stayed in the match and in the moment."

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Both teams traded points in the fifth set with BYU taking the first lead at 3-1 before UCLA tied it up and took its own lead at 5-4. The score tied at 8s and 9s before a kill from Sander put the Cougars on top 11-9, a lead they wouldn't relinquish. BYU ended the set with four unanswered points for the 15-10 win to advance them in the tournament.

Both teams played back-and-forth in the first set, taking turns in the lead and tying the score at almost every point. With the score tied at 17-17, UCLA went up by two and BYU wasn't able to tie the set again until 21-21 after two-straight errors from the visiting team. The teams tied again at 23-23 before UCLA took the last two points for the 25-23 set one victory. 

The Bruins hit .406 to BYU's .250 in the first set.

BYU took its first lead in set two at 14-13 and was able to keep it close until UCLA took the lead back at 18-16 after a kill from Robart Page and an error from BYU. The Bruins remained in the lead for the rest of the set and eventually took the 25-21 victory.

After set two, the Cougars were hitting just .298 and Rivera's 11 kills made him the only player in double figures on the BYU roster.

Hungry for a comeback and down 2-1 in the match, the Cougars went up 6-2 to start the third set and never let up. The Cougars took their largest lead at 21-13 after a 4-1 run, highlighted by a service ace from Rivera and three-straight errors from the Bruins. UCLA outscored BYU 3-1 to finish the set but it wasn't enough as the home team took the 25-18 victory in the third for a 2-1 match score in favor of UCLA.

In opposite fashion, the fourth set began with UCLA taking a 7-1 lead. The Cougars responded with a 6-0 run, bringing the score to 7-6, and would keep it close the rest of the set. The teams tied at 19s and 20s before BYU took a 21-20 lead after winning a long rally.

UCLA tied it up again at 24-24 but a service error gave the Cougars set point and a monster kill from Patch secured the 26-24 victory to tie the match at 2-2. BYU went on to complete the comeback with a fifth set win.

Long Beach State topped UC Irvine in five sets earlier Thursday. The Cougars and 49ers meet on Saturday night in the MPSF Championship.

"Long Beach is  a really really good team," McGown said. "We're not in any way taking them lightly. We're going to have to come back with a good game plan and guys are going to have to work hard and try and figure out in short order, what Long Beach is going to try and do."

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