No. 5 UCLA wounded Cal volleyball’s chances of receiving a bid in the NCAA tournament.
The Bruins (21-5,13-4) swept the Bears at the Wooden Center in Los Angeles Thursday night, giving the latter their 14th sweep of the season.
Although the Bears (14-14, 8-10 in Pac-12) notched a solid .299 hitting percentage for the night, the Bruins’ own remarkable .537 was the highest percentage the Bruins have hit in at least a decade.
To put things in perspective, prior to the Cal match, the Bruins’ hitting percentage was .299 — the fourth-best in the nation.
“We did not serve enough early and that gave them rhythm,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “When they’re hitting like that, there’s not much you can do.”
In the first set, the home team got off to a strong 3-2 lead. Paced primarily by outside hitters Rachael Kidder and Tabi Love, UCLA then carried its lead all the way up to 11-5.
The Bears called a timeout, but before they could find their footing, Cal’s opponent had quickly extended the lead to 17-9.
“(Love) was hitting high and over and around our blocks,” Gehan said. “We weren’t able to dig the balls we should have.”
Love wrecked all hopes for Cal, raking in six kills the first set. UCLA ultimately won the set, 25-16.
“I think we had a little bit of nerves going into the first game,” junior outside hitter Adrienne Gehan said. “We did not do a good job of making adjustments on the block, and the mentality of our defense was missing.”
Cal’s two largest leads were 8-5 and 13-10 in the second set. But Love racked another one to help the Bruins tie the game at eight.
The second set kept swinging back and forth. UCLA scored three in a row to tie the game at 13. Then an out-of-bounds error by sophomore outside hitter Christina Higgins tied the game at 18.
Although Cal had a chance to take the lead, the Bruins promptly scored three straight and finally took the second set, 25-22.
“UCLA pushed harder than we did,” Feller said. “We got tentative when we were close or tied in points.”
The Bruins started the third set with a 10-7 lead. Freshman setter Becca Strehlow’s passing helped Love and middle blocker Zoe Nightingale score two kills apiece, pushing a 7-1 Bruin run.
“(UCLA) certainly did not let its guard down (in the third set),” Feller said. “There was some good volleyball by us but more by them.”
A Cal serving error into the net gave UCLA the extra momentum it needed to finish out the game. The Bruins had taken the last set 25-18 and won the game in just 78 minutes. The Bears now go on to play No. 8 USC on its home court Friday at 7 p.m.
“We have to decide what we’re all about and play like we have nothing to lose,” Feller said of the impending matchup.
Andrew Davis covers volleyball. [email protected]