April 17, 2006
This Week's Matchups:
Wednesday, April 19, 7:00 p.m.
MPSF Tournament - First Round
No. 8 UC Santa Barbara at No. 7 UCLA
Los Angeles, Calif.
The Gauchos enter the first round of the MPSF Tournament in the midst of a three-game losing streak after falling to both No. 7 UCLA and top-ranked UC Irvine this past week. UCSB has dropped six of its last seven games, its only win coming two weeks ago at home against USC. With their loss to Irvine in the season finale on Saturday, the Gauchos finished the regular season with an overall record 13-15 and an MPSF mark of 9-13, good enough for eighth place in conference.
The format of the MPSF Tournament is such that the No. 7 and 8 seeds must play an opening round "play-in" game to determine who will face the No. 2 seed in the first round. The winner of this game will earn a trip to Hawaii to face the second-ranked Warriors.
In 2005, the Gauchos were in a similar "underdog" position going into the MPSF Tourney facing third-seeded BYU in Provo, Utah. Having lost five of its last seven matches going in, Santa Barbara rallied on the road. After winning the first two games, the Gauchos allowed the Cougars back into the match by dropping the next two games. In the fifth and deciding game however, UCSB regrouped and pulled off a 15-13 game five win to propel itself into the MPSF semifinals. Of the Gauchos who played in that game, four are on the Gauchos' active roster for this year's MPSF Tournament - Bryan Berman, Drew Wilson, Jared Godinez and Theo Brunner.
The last time UCSB and UCLA met in the MPSF Tournament was in 2002 when the Gauchos upset the Bruins on their home floor in five games. Santa Barbara then advanced to the semifinals only to lose at Hawaii in four games.
Scouting the Opponent
They say it's difficult to beat an opponent three times in a season, but that's exactly what UCLA did against the Gauchos in 2006. Even more, the Bruins have yet to concede a game to Santa Barbara, sweeping the Gauchos twice on the road and once at home. The most recent victory for the Bruins came last Wednesday, a match in which they were really only tested by the Gauchos in the third game, a 34-32 decision.
As the Gauchos found out last week, the Bruins are on a tear. UCLA has won eight in a row, entering the postseason with a 20-12 overall record and a 12-10 conference mark after spending much of the season at or below .500. The emergence of freshman setter Matt Wade, who stepped into the starting lineup after an injury to senior setter Dennis Gonzalez on March 11, seems to have made a significant difference for the Bruins. Since Wade has been the starting setter, the Bruins are 8-2 and hitting .341 as a team. UCLA is also led by Steve Klosterman (4.09 kills per game) and Santa Barbara native Nick Scheftic (2.79 kills per game, .418 hitting percentage, 1.03 blocks per game)
While Theo Brunner may not have established himself as a legitimate deity yet, his hitting percentage has been somewhat divine in 2006. His .433 clip is the sixth-best in the MPSF and tops among all Gauchos. As of right now, Brunner's 2006 hitting percentage ranks as the fourth-highest in UCSB history. The 6'7" middle blocker has also provided a presence at the net for Santa Barbara, recording an average of 0.94 blocks per game in conference play. The Ridgefield, Conn. native will be looking to add onto his postseason resume that includes a 12-kill showing in last year's MPSF Quarterfinal win over BYU.
Junior outside hitter Aaron Richman has seized the attention of opponents down the stretch in 2006. The Solvang, Calif. native is averaging 3.72 kills per game in his last six games, moving him into second place on the team at 2.78 kills per game. His 3.27 points per game is also second on the team in 2006.
Max Klineman is continuing to have one of the best seasons for a freshman setter in recent memory. At 13.74 assists per game, Klineman boasts the second-highest average in the conference. His 1,237 total on the season is the ninth highest in school history and second-highest by a freshman. The Manhattan Beach, Calif. native is also contributing to the Gaucho defense, accounting for 0.51 blocks per game and 1.05 digs per game.
Berman Down the House
Junior outside hitter Bryan Berman continued his stellar 2006 season this past week with two 11-kill performances against UCLA and Irvine. Berman's MPSF kill per game average of 3.00 is second on the team as is his 1.58 digs per game.