It took No. 1 UCLA a full set to get comfortable in the Smith Fieldhouse, but once the Bruins settled in, they looked every bit their top ranking in a four-set victory over BYU Friday night.
After losing the initial set 20-25, UCLA won the next three by scores of 25-23, 25-16 and 25-18.
It marks just the second UCLA victory in the Smith Fieldhouse over BYU since 2009, giving the Bruins a 2-16 record in that category over the 13 year span.
The match was the first time a No. 1 ranked team visited Provo to play the Cougars since 2017 when BYU faced No. 1 Long Beach State.
The Cougars started Friday night with a service ace from redshirt freshman Miks Ramanis, giving BYU the lead and momentum immediately.
UCLA proved unable to do anything about it as the Cougars never trailed in the set, cruising to the five-point victory.
“We didn’t lose confidence in the first set even in those moments when they made more plays,” BYU senior Davide Gardini said.
“If we serve like we did in the first set, it’s tough for everybody to play against us, so we’ve got to make sure we stay loose and continue to serve good.”
The second set was much less one-sided, the two teams finding themselves tied seven times before UCLA eked out the win after the last tie came at 17-17.
UCLA middle blocker Merrick McHenry broke the stalemate with his lone kill of the set, giving his team the advantage for good.
Coming out of the locker room, BYU quickly took a three-point lead thanks in large part to impressive serving from Ramanis, who added another service ace to his stats.
The Bruins soon erased the Cougars’ lead, however, using a 6-2 run to take control of the set before ultimately pushing their lead to 19-9.
BYU scored the next six points to get back into the set, but only scored one more after that to fall by nine.
UCLA stayed in control in the final set, keeping the Cougars at bay yet again. A late surge by BYU brought the Cougars within four, but the Bruins finished things off by scoring four of the last five points.
“(UCLA) just started making a little more serves, especially in the last two sets,” Gardini said.
“I think there’s a lot of good things to come out of this game. If we can play like we played the first set two more times tomorrow, we can beat these guys.”
The win gives UCLA its 10th conference victory on the year, adding to a tally that already proved good enough to clinch the MPSF regular season title.
The Cougars were champions of the league a season ago, but have been unable to replicate that magic this year with a much younger roster.
With the loss, BYU cemented its spot in the MPSF standings at sixth, the school’s worst conference finish since 1992.
BYU will get another shot at the new MPSF champions tomorrow evening, for what should be Gardini’s final match in the Smith Fieldhouse.
“It’s going to be emotional for sure,” the senior outside hitter said. “I want to say goodbye to this place with a win.”
Gardini and his fellow seniors will get an opportunity to do just that beginning at 7 p.m.