At one point Friday evening, it looked like BYU would come away with a sixth home victory and leave UC San Diego with questions to address ahead of Saturday’s second of two matches between the schools this weekend. That was before the Tritons turned things around, defeating the Cougars in the Smith Fieldhouse in five sets and leaving their hosts with unanswered questions going into tomorrow.
Adding insult to injury, BYU entered the contest with a perfect 44-0 record against UC San Diego all time, having only dropped one set in the two schools’ previous 11 meetings. That streak is no more, with the final three sets Friday night going to the Tritons.
After losing its last three matches, all to BYU’s MPSF counterparts, UC San Diego came to Provo hungry for a win.
BYU was ready to bounce back from a loss as well, after Ball State handed the Cougars their first home setback of the season Saturday night, causing them to slip in last Tuesday’s polling from No. 9 to No. 11.
“When we get up, then we struggle keeping the advantage and the lead,” BYU outside hitter Davide Gardini said following BYU’s loss to UC San Diego, a loss that came on his 23rd birthday. “It’s a little lack of focus. We started missing a lot of serves and then we got a little timid. Credit to them.”
The Cougars ended the night with 25 service errors, 24 attacking errors and a stinging defeat in an ever-elusive match that was theirs for the taking.
The first set was neck and neck with BYU ultimately getting the best of UC San Diego 27-25. The Cougars overcame two Triton set points, getting the last three scores to take the set. Middle blocker Branden Oberender teamed up with outside hitter Kupono Browne for a block to give BYU its first set point opportunity. One play later, UC San Diego committed an attacking error that gave the Cougars a one-set lead.
“It’s a little lack of focus. We started missing a lot of serves and then we got a little timid. Credit to them.” — BYU outside hitter Davide Gardini
BYU won the second set in similar fashion, scoring the final three points to pick up a 25-23 win. Both squads struggled from the service line, combining for 14 service errors. The two teams traded blows down the stretch, swapping point after point before the Cougars broke the trend, scored three consecutive points, and took a 2-0 set lead heading into the locker room.
“I think we’ve got to learn how to deal with being in the lead,” Gardini said. “When we’re playing well, we’ve just got to keep playing and not take our foot off the gas pedal.”
UC San Diego jumped out to a quick lead in the third set, extending it to as many as eight points. The closest BYU ever came to taking a lead in the set was a 1-1 tie at the beginning of the set. The Tritons capped off their dominant set with a seven-point victory.
The fourth set was another nailbiter. UC San Diego defeated BYU 31-29 to force a final set. The Tritons got the job done on their seventh set point opportunity, silencing the normally raucous BYU crowd. The Cougars lost control of the set when UC San Diego took a 23-22 lead and BYU never led the rest of the way.
The fifth set saw UC San Diego finish the match off with a 15-11 win. The Tritons faced little resistance in the final set, never trailing en route to arguably their biggest win of the year.
With the loss, BYU’s record stands at 5-4 on the season while UC San Diego improved to 4-5. The Cougars will try to right the ship in their second clash with the Tritons tomorrow evening in Provo.