Before Friday, the Bears hadn’t defeated UCLA in six years. After Friday’s Pac-12 semifinal, it’s now seven.
The No. 14 Bears finished their conference playoff run with a 5-0 loss to No. 5 UCLA on Friday in Ojai, Calif. Cal now awaits the NCAA committee’s decision on where the team will be seeded in the NCAA Championships.
The Bears (12-11) entered the weekend matches having lost three straight to top-10 teams. After receiving a first-round bye, Cal struggled in a 4-3 victory against an unranked Washington team they had crushed earlier in the year.
UCLA (22-2), on the other hand, had been on an impressive run. The Bruins entered Friday on a ten-match winning streak, including a 4-3 upset over No. 1 USC before the playoffs began.
The Bruins had faced the Bears three times previously this year. While the first two dual matches were close 4-3 UCLA victories, Cal received a brutal 7-0 drubbing in the latest April 14 matchup.
Friday’s match appeared no different.
The Bruins, led by senior captain Nick Meister, quickly seized the double point. Meister and freshman Dennis Novikov defeated Carlos Cueto and Ben McLachlan 8-3 on the second court. Moments later, Marcos Giron and Warren Hardie locked up the doubles point with an 8-5 win over Gregory Bayane and Andrew Scholnick.
The only thing that prevented the Bears from being swept in doubles was the match official’s whistle. As soon as Giron and Hardie won, the official stopped Cal’s No. 5 top court pair of Nick Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt from finishing their doubles match against Alex Brigham and Adrien Puget. UCLA’s duo had a comfortable 7-4 lead.
“I think if we had gotten the doubles point, it might’ve shifted some momentum for us,” Andrews said. “So doing well early is critical for us.”
But the day’s momentum belonged to UCLA.
For the first time since Jan. 13, Andrews began the weekend not playing on the top court. The senior moved to the second court in order to better matchup against Clay Thompson, a familiar opponent. Though Thompson had only narrowly defeated Andrews in their April 14 match, the sophomore gave UCLA its first singles point with an assertive 6-2, 6-3 win.
Novikov finished the day for the victorious Bruins with his win over Bayane. The Cal freshman pushed the second set, but Novikov simply overpowered him in a 6-2, 7-5 decision.
Though UCLA had sealed the victory, match officials allowed Riki McLachlan and Puget to finish their game on the 5th court. Less than a minute after Novikov and Bayane finished, Puget extended his single-match win streak to 18 with a 7-5, 6-2 win.
With the loss, the Bears are in danger of losing their top-16 seed in the NCAA tournament, which a Friday victory would have secured. Now the Bears must wait with uncertainty.
“We really would have liked to get that win, but now we’ve just got to wait and see,” Cal coach Peter Wright said. “Wherever we’re seeded though, we’ll stick with our process and I’m confident we’ll do well.”
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