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LOS ANGELES—Josue Rivera led No. 4 BYU men’s volleyball to victory against No. 5 USC Saturday, pulling off a season-high 15 kills in the 3-2 (16-25, 25-22, 15-25, 25-20, 15-10) road contest.
It was a strange match, rhythmically," BYU head coach Chris McGown said. "We alternated playing very well and very poorly. We managed to find a way to grind out a win, and it was a real testament to the work ethic of the guys."
Rivera hit .370 on the night, also adding eight digs and three blocks. Senior Taylor Sander contributed 14 kills and eight digs, helped out by Tyler Heap’s 41 assists. Heap also set a career high in blocks with five to lead the Cougars (7-3, 7-1 MPSF).
BYU out-blocked the Trojans (5-3, 4-3 MPSF) 13.5-12 to make up for losing the kills battle 63-50.
Down 2-1 in the overall score, BYU fell behind 5-1 in the fourth set but inched back on a 4-1 run. Carson Heninger tied the score at 10 on an ace. A Heap and Hatch block put the Cougars ahead for the first time in the set 13-12, and Heninger followed up with a kill.
Sander shut down a long rally with an attack USC couldn’t return to put BYU ahead 22-18. A Trojan service error put BYU in set-point position, setting up Michael Hatch and Heninger to take the set 25-20 on a block.
The Cougars and Trojans started the fifth set neck-and-neck until a Heninger kill launched a 5-0 run. Rivera and Devin Young blocked USC’s Cristian Rivera for the 8-3 BYU lead. The Cougars held on to take the set on a Trojan attack error 15-10.
"I thought we finally got a handle on the game plan and started executing that a little bit better toward the end of the match, and I thought that was big for us," McGown said. "We finally got in some of the right spots, started making some blocks, started making some digs."
BYU came out slow to start the match, with USC taking control of the first set 11-8 and quickly increasing that to 15-10. The Cougars couldn’t come up with a response and let the Trojans run away with a 25-16 win.
In the second set, the Cougars got off to a 3-1 start with the help of back-to-back kills by Young. USC tied up the score 4-4, launching a series of six ties before BYU strung together a kill and a block to go up 11-9. Three Trojan attack errors increased the Cougar lead to 14-0.
After leading by as many as six points, BYU allowed USC to get back in the game down the stretch. A USC block cut the lead to 23-22, but Sander held off the Trojans on a kill, and Heninger came up with a solo block to end the second set 25-22.
USC broke away from an early 4-4 tie to take a 12-7 lead in the third set. A 4-0 Trojan run put USC ahead 16-8, and BYU couldn’t recover, dropping the set 25-15.
The Cougars head to Riverside, Calif., for a match against Cal Baptist Monday at 7 p.m. PST to finish off this road trip, then take the rest of the week off. After that, BYU’s next match is at Pacific Feb. 14.
"I think the single biggest focus for me is can we get some rest on Sunday, and regenerate and recuperate some energy, and then be able to bring 100 percent of it to the match on Monday," McGown said. "Cal Baptist is a good team, so we’re going to have to play hard and we’re going to have to play clean to win."
Cougars face No. 3 Pepperdine, No. 5 USC
PROVO, Utah—No. 4 BYU men’s volleyball gears up for two top-five road matches, one at No. 3 Pepperdine Friday at 7 p.m. PST and the other at No. 5 USC Saturday at 5 p.m. PST.
The Cougars (6-2, 6-0 MPSF) look to build on a six-match win streak that put them tied for first place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with UCLA (who is No. 1 nationally). BYU took down then-No. 6 Stanford in four sets at the Smith Fieldhouse Friday before sweeping Pacific at home Saturday.
Senior outside hitter Taylor Sander leads the Cougars with 4.55 kills per set (good for fourth place in the nation). Also averaging 1.48 digs, he leads the nation with 5.55 points per set and is No. 5 for aces per set at 0.66. Tyler Heap helps out on offense with an 11.15 assists average. On defense, senior blocker Devin Young contributes 1.28 blocks per set, while libero Jaylen Reyes has 1.90 digs per set.
BYU is in the top 10 in four national statistical categories, coming in eighth for aces per set (1.52) and blocks per set (2.76), and ninth in hitting percentage (.301). The Cougars are fourth in win-loss percentage at .750.
Pepperdine (4-1, 4-1 MPSF) comes off a 3-2 road loss to Long Beach State Friday, its first loss of the season.
Leading the Waves’ offense is Josh Taylor, who also leads the nation with 4.86 kills per set. Nikola Antonijevic contributes 1.60 blocks per set, good for second place in the nation, while setter Matt West tallies 11.52 assists per set, good for fifth place in the nation.
Pepperdine is in the top five nationally in five statistics categories—blocks (first at 3.52 per set), kills (third at 13.76 per set), digs (third at 11.57 per set), win-loss percentage (third at .800) and assists (fourth at 12.90 per set).
USC (4-2, 3-2 MPSF) fell to Cal State Northridge 3-0 on the road Friday. The Trojans host Cal Baptist Thursday prior to hosting BYU Saturday.
Henry Cassiday leads the USC defense and is second in the nation with 3.50 digs per set. Lucas Yoder leads on offense with 4.05 kills per set, hitting a .345 clip. No. 1 in the nation for assists per set, setter Micah Christenson averages 12.23.
USC is No. 1 in the nation for kills per set (14.95) and assists per set (14.18), and is No. 2 in digs per set (14.00).
Live stats and live video streaming links for both matches can be found on the BYU men’s volleyball schedule page.