PROVO -- Having won a season-high six straight matches, including a, 3-2, upset victory over No. 2 USC on Feb. 18, the third-ranked BYU men's volleyball team will travel this week to California for a four-match road swing. The Cougars will take on No. 6 UCLA on Wednesday and Thursday, March 1-2 at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles and then travel to Irvine, Calif., to battle UC Irvine on Friday and Saturday, March 3-4. Each match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. (PST), except for Saturday's match at UC Irvine, which is slated for a 3 p.m. (PST) start. Wednesday's match at UCLA will be broadcast live on broadcast.com.
"We have a dream of making it back to the Final Four," BYU head coach Carl McGown said. "In order to fulfill that dream, we have to take advantage of every opportunity, including hosting at least a first-round match in the MPSF Tournament. That homecourt advantage is crucial. In order to do that, we need to win at least three of the four matches this week. This is a very important trip for us."
The Cougars (13-3, 10-3) own a three-match lead over UCLA (13-3, 7-3) for second place in the MPSF Mountain Division, while Pepperdine leads the division with an 8-1 league record. With six league matches remaining for BYU, three victories this week would put the Cougars in the driver's seat for a second-place finish in the division and the opportunity to host a first-round match in the MPSF Tournament.
Since falling to Pepperdine on Feb. 3, the Cougars have reeled of six straight victories, including last weekend's back-to-back, 3-0 wins over UC San Diego and San Diego State. On Friday, the Cougars held the Tritons to a total 15 points over three games, while Saturday proved even more impressive. BYU held the Aztecs to a combined 13 points throughout the entire match. The two wins mark the Cougars' seventh and eighth 3-0 victories of the season.
"We're playing pretty well right now," McGown said. "We were pleased with our effort last weekend (against UC San Diego and San Diego State). Sometimes when the probability of winning is high, players may have a tendency to let down. Last weekend wasn't the case. We came out and executed and played very well. I feel good about where we are, heading in to this important road trip."
UCLA has won four of its last five matches, including recent wins over UC Santa Barbara (3-2) and UC Irvine (3-1). The Bruins are 3-2 in Pauley Pavilion this season, falling to USC (2-3) and Cal State Northridge (1-3). Full of offensive fire-power, UCLA is hitting .359 as a team, lead by Seth Burnham who has posted a .420 average at the net on 210-of-381 swings. The Bruins are coached by Al Scates, who has won 19 NCAA title in his 38 years as a head coach at UCLA. The Bruins lead the all-time series between the two schools, 5-18, including a record of 9-1 at Pauley Pavilion. The Cougars have won three of the last four meetings, however, including two straight 3-0 decisions in Provo last season. BYU also won one of two matches at Pauley Pavilion in 1998.
"The last time we played at Pauley Pavilion, we won a National Championship," McGown said. "This will be our first time back there since then and our guys haven't forgotten that wonderful experience. However, playing UCLA at Pauley Pavilion is a little different than playing Long Beach State (for the National Title) at Pauley Pavilion. We've been fairly successful against UCLA over the past couple years, including a win at Pauley Pavilion in 1998. This will be a nice matchup."
UC Irvine has posted a 6-10 mark on the season, including a 5-4 mark at Crawford Hall. The Anteaters are 3-8 in Conference play and have lost two straight home matches. UC Irvine is hitting .293 on the season, led by Josh Richardson who has connected on 121-of-212 swings (.448). Kevin Reid leads the team in digs with 112, while Richardson is the team leader in blocks with a 1.45 per game average. BYU has posted a 16-4 all-time record against the Anteaters, including an 8-2 mark in Irvine. The Cougars have won 16 straight matches, dating back to the 1992 season. Seven of the Cougars' wins have been by a 3-0 score.
BYU's Scott Bunker leads the Cougar defense with a 2.38 blocks per game average, while the 6-5 junior also leads the team with a .463 average at the net. Junior Matt Olsen is close behind, posting 162 kills on 271 swings (.454), while Joaquin Acosta is averaging a team-leading 4.76 kills per game. Sophomore Mike Wall has been on a hot streak, recording game-high numbers for the Cougars in kills, averaging a team-best 5.15 kills per game over the last four matches. After missing the first 11 matches of the season with a broken finger, junior middle blocker Mac Wilson has averaged 3.93 kills per game, en route to a .506 hitting percentage (55-10-89). Senior setter Chris Pitzak anchors the BYU offense, posting 19.48 assists per game.
COUGAR COURT NOTES:
Â•BYU ranks third in both the AVCA/USA Today Coaches' Poll and the Volleyball Magazine Poll, while UCLA ranks sixth in both polls. UC Irvine is unranked.
Â• The Cougars are 8-3 against ranked opponents on the season, including upset wins over No. 2 USC (3-2) and No. 3 Pepperdine (3-2).
Â• BYU owns the nation's longest, active homecourt win streak. The Cougars has strung together 39 straight wins in the Smith Fieldhouse, which ranks second all-time behind UCLA. (83, 42).
Â• The Cougars have produced at least one All-American in nine of the past 10 seasons, including Ryan Millar, Ossie Antonetti and Hector Lebron who each earned All-America honors last season.
Â• BYU setter Chris Pitzak tallied his 2300th assist against Cal State Northridge earlier this season and later overtook Jesse Gant for third place on the all-time assist list at BYU. Pitzak who ranks among the nation's leaders in assists, has 2,952 career assists and needs just 191 assists to pass current BYU All-American Hector Lebron for second place on the all-time assist list. (Lebron is redshirting the 2000 season.)
Â• The Cougars recorded a single-game season high .720 hitting percentage in game one against San Diego State on Saturday, Feb. 26. BYU tallied 19 kills on 25 attempts with just one error. The Cougars also produced a season-low one error against the Aztecs in the game.
Â• Since the 1997 season, the Cougars have won 79 matches, while losing just 16. BYU's winning percentage (.832) ranks tops in the nation during that span.
Â• Cougar coach Carl McGown is in his 11th season at BYU. Over that span, McGown has posted a 154-114 (.575) record, including a 30-1 mark in 1999. McGown lead the Cougars to their first-ever NCAA National Champion during that season.
Â• In 10 home matches this season, BYU has averaged 2,781 fans per match, including a season-high 5,735 in attendance for the Cougars' season-opener against Loyola Chicago. Since then BYU has had six different crowds with 2,000 or more fans at the Smith Fieldhouse. On the road, BYU has played in front of an average 1,688 fans, including a season-high 5,895 fans at Hawai'i.