Top-ranked UCLA showed the #5 Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team why it’s the best in the country, blanking them 3-0 Saturday in Pauley Pavilion.
Santa Barbara (14-12 overall, 12-8 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) had a solid offensive night pounding in 51 total kills for .307, but the defense lacked the necessary intensity, allowing the Bruins (24-3 overall, 17-3 MPSF) to hit .441 and drive home 56 kills.
“There was a lack of effort in our defense,” senior middle blocker Michael Kennedy said. “We were getting to our spots, but we weren’t getting up like we needed to.”
The 6’7″ senior from Palmdale, Calif., slammed home 12 kills on a team-high .556 hitting percentage. Kennedy’s former Highland High School teammate, sophomore setter Bryan Berman, joined Kennedy in hitting .500 while driving home 11 kills.
“We had a pretty good offense going,” junior setter Bart Kowalski said. “But we had a couple of unforced errors late in the game when it really counted.”
Santa Barbara kept the first two games close, losing 30-28, 30-27 and 30-20. Both of the first two games saw several lead changes, but the Bruins held on with solid and steady play and watched, while Santa Barbara was unable to keep its hits inbounds late in the game.
“If [UCLA] got a bad pass or a bad set, they just took a little off their swings and kept it in,” Kowalski said. “That was something we were unable to do. You can’t make errors that late in the game, especially against a team like UCLA.”
Santa Barbara had no answer for junior opposite David Russell, who knocked down 15 kills while hitting a blistering .684. Sophomore opposite Evan Patak had 17 kills for Santa Barbara while hitting .294, but offense was not the missing element in Saturday’s loss.
“When we play against better-ranked teams, we tend to step up to their level offensively,” Kennedy said. “But our defense has been lacking lately – it’s something we know and we’ll be focusing on it in the next couple of practices.”
Santa Barbara will also be focusing on trying to grab a top-four position in the MPSF standings to gain a home court advantage for the first part of the upcoming MPSF Tournament, which starts April 24.
“It’s crucial for us to get a hosting position,” Kennedy said. “We know how critical it is to make it into the top four.”