SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The UC San Diego men's volleyball team fell narrowly short in its bid to complete a second two-set comeback in a single day, ultimately dropping a 3-2 decision to No. 6 UCLA in a semifinal of the 49th Annual UC Santa Barbara Asics Invitational at The Thunderdome on Friday night. Set scores were 26-24, 25-19, 22-25, 17-25 and 15-8.
The match marked UCSD's first-ever championship semifinal appearance at the UCSB Invitational. Both teams were coming off of come-from-behind 3-2 victories during the morning session after each had surrendered their first two sets, with UCSD toppling No. 5 Lewis and UCLA outlasting 13th-ranked host UC Santa Barbara.
The Tritons are now 6-7 over their last 13 match-ups with Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) foe UCLA since 2008, having defeated the Bruins at least once in each of the past five years. The previous meeting between the sides had resulted in a 3-1 UCSD upset over third-ranked UCLA in La Jolla on March 30, 2012, in the midst of a first-ever five-match MPSF win streak for the Tritons from March 9-31.
Friday's first set saw UCLA (2-0) trot out to a 4-1 lead before the Tritons (1-1) went on a 7-1 burst, taking an 8-5 edge and forcing a timeout by first-year Bruin head coach John Speraw. A former UCLA player, Speraw led UC Irvine to three national championships over the past six years, including the 2012 crown, prior to taking over at his alma mater for retired Bruin legend Al Scates in the offseason.
The Tritons remained on top as late as 21-19, necessitating another UCLA timeout, before the Bruins knotted the game at 21-21 and pulled ahead at 23-22. Though UCSD tied it one last time at 24-24, the next two points were tallied by UCLA for a 26-24 first-set win.
In set two, UCSD trailed by scores of 11-8 and 17-13 before the Bruins gained further separation at 22-16 following a service ace by 2012 All-MPSF Second Team selection Gonzalo Quiroga and a kill by junior opposite Jonathan Bridgeman. UCLA cruised from there for the 25-19 victory.
The Bruins jumped out to a 5-2 advantage in the third set on a Bridgeman ace. The Tritons pulled even at 5-5, but were forced into a timeout following a Dane Worley kill, down 9-5.
UCSD faced as large as a five-point deficit at 10-5 before battling back to within one at 11-10, but still trailed by the score of 16-14.
The Tritons led moments later, 18-17, and suddenly were looking at triple-set point at 24-21, before taking the frame, 25-22, to remain in the match.
UCSD clung to a tenuous two-point cushion throughout much of the early stages of the fourth set. Back-to-back Bruin points on a kill and a block tied it at 9-9. From there, the Tritons surged ahead to 18-13, with UCLA calling a timeout at 20-16. UCSD made it 22-16 and 24-17 before finishing off the set to even the match at 2-2.
The Bruins scored the first four points of the fifth and final frame, bringing on a timeout by eighth-year Triton head coach Kevin Ring. UCSD closed to 6-4 before the teams went into the side switch with UCLA leading, 8-4. After 11-6 and 13-7, the Tritons finally succumbed by the set score of 15-8 and match score of 3-2.
In the other semifinal, top-ranked defending national champion UC Irvine swept away its second straight opponent on the day in No. 7 Long Beach State, 3-0.
UCSD will conclude play at the two-day, eight-team Asics Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 5, taking on Long Beach State in the third-place match at 4 p.m. inside Rob Gym.
-- UCSDtritons.com --