Facing the top-ranked team in the nation, the No. 14 UCSB men’s volleyball team fell short to UCLA 3-1 Friday night in front of an energetic crowd in Rob Gym.

Santa Barbara trailed 2-0 before taking the third set, refusing to back down against a talented Bruins squad. The team showed improvement compared to when they last faced UCLA.

“A huge improvement over the last time we played them two weeks ago — night and day,” Head Coach Rick McLaughlin said. “We still have things we’ve got to get better at to be able to beat a team like that.”

Losing at UCLA 3-0 on Jan. 27, UC Santa Barbara (3-7 overall, 1-5 MPSF) gave the Bruins a tough game this time around, coming in with confidence and displaying a high level of energy.

“I thought we were real good [with our energy],” McLaughlin said. “Our guys have been better at that the last few matches. We were ready to play.”

UCLA, meanwhile, continued to display why it is the top team in the nation, winning its 10th straight game and improving its undefeated mark in conference play to 7-0 (12-1 overall). Starting strong and sticking with UCLA at 11-11 in the first set, the Gauchos fell behind after three consecutive points by the Bruins, eventually falling 25-17.

From the beginning of the second set, the Bruins dominated, taking a 3-1 deficit into an 8-3 lead behind senior setter Kyle Caldwell’s serving streak. UCLA controlled the entire set, never letting the Gauchos back in the game, winning 25-18.

“We improved a lot since we played UCLA last time,” junior outside hitter Miles Evans said. “I felt like we were a little nervous on the floor last time, but we had a lot more confidence coming into the match today.”

That confidence was on full display in the third set as UCSB came out emotional, with the home crowd behind it. When UCSB took a quick 4-1 lead, the Bruins were forced to take a timeout to try to slow down the Gaucho run.

Timeouts could not save the Bruins, however, as UCSB continued their offensive attack, taking the set 25-22 behind strong play from Evans, who recorded seven of his game-high 19 kills in the third set.

“I felt like we played really well as a team, together,” Evans said. “Every single player played the best that they possibly could and brought what they had to the table. We played point-by-point and minimized the errors that we needed to minimize.”

Outside hitter Kevin Donohue recorded nine kills and eight digs for the Gauchos in yet another solid game from the freshman. Sophomore libero Chad Kingi had nine digs, and junior middle blocker Dylan Davis had six kills.

“I think we played a lot better, we had a lot more energy,” junior setter Oliver Deutschman said. Deutschman led the Gauchos with 32 assists while adding five digs and one kill. Santa Barbara finished with six team blocks, compared to 10 for the Bruins.

UCSB continues play at home on Wednesday, Feb. 15, against Cal State Northridge. The match is scheduled for 7 p.m.