PROVO, Utah – Fourth-seeded UC Santa Barbara hit just .086 as a team and was outblocked 17.5-3.0 by top-seeded BYU on Thursday night as the Cougars swept the Gauchos 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-20) in the MPSF Tournament Semifinal at the Smith Fieldhouse to advance to Saturday night's championship match.
Senior outside hitter Matt Hanley was one of the few Gauchos to find a rhythm offensively, finishing with a dozen kills to lead the team. The rest of UCSB's attack struggled at times, producing team hitting percentages under .050 in both the first and third sets.
Two-time MPSF Player of the Year Taylor Sander led the way for the Cougars with 15 kills and a .500 hitting percentage. Michael Hatch was a big part of BYU's sizable blocking advantage, finishing with 13 block assists.
Eliminated from the conference tournament, UCSB – barring an at-large selection into the NCAA Tournament – finishes the year with an 18-9 overall record. The loss was just the second MPSF Tourney defeat in the tenure of head coach Rick McLaughlin.
BYU – the regular season MPSF champions – improved to 20-8. It was the first postseason win over UCSB in BYU's program history.
"You have to give credit to BYU," said McLaughlin. "They served and passed really well and it made all the difference."
The two teams were closely matched at the beginning of the match, producing a 7-7 tie in the first set. From that point, however, BYU went on an 8-2 run – featured three blocks and a Sander ace – to take a commanding 15-9 lead. Matt Hanley's four kills and Chad Kingi's four digs in the set helped UCSB cut the deficit to four, but the Cougars were able to clinch game one on a Sander kill through the block.
UCSB and BYU traded runs through the early parts of the second set, with a Ryan Thompson-Jonah Seif double-block giving the Gauchos a 10-8 lead and forcing a Cougars timeout. UCSB maintained that two-point advantage until Sander slammed a kill and then took over from the service line to give the Cougars four straight points and an 18-16 advantage, which turned out to be a decisive as BYU claimed set two by just three points.
The Gauchos had their best collective offensive performance in the second, hitting .222 and receiving a strong contribution from senior team captain Evan Licht, who collected six of his nine kills in the frame.
With an 8-4 lead in the third, the Gauchos sparked hopes of a comeback with their largest advantage of the night. However, the Cougars front row recovered and put up nine blocks in the frame, quickly erasing the deficit. Three straight stuffs at the end of the set gave the Cougars match point at 24-19, and Tim Dobbert ended the match two plays later with his 10th kill of the night.
UCSB will learn its NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. in the NCAA Collegiate Men's Volleyball Selection Show which can be streamed on NCAA.com.