In a crucial match, No. 11 USC was defeated by its crosstown rival, No. 6 UCLA, in three sets: 25-18, 25-19 and 25-17. While UCLA clinched a berth in the MPSF tournament, the Trojans’ road to the tournament becomes much harder with the loss.
The Trojans had their season-best five-match win streak snapped while falling to 11-13 overall and 5-10 in the MPSF. UCLA improved to 16-7 overall and 9-6 in the MPSF while winning its sixth straight match.
After missing six games due to an abdominal strain, senior outside hitter Lucas Yoder returned with eight kills for the Trojans. Senior Andy Benesh had five blocks while sophomore Matt Douglas contributed seven digs.
For the Bruins, Mitch Stahl led the way with nine blocks while Hagen Smith had nine digs and three aces.
The Trojans struggled throughout the match, hitting just .088 compared to UCLA’s .373. Additionally, the Bruins edged the Trojans in blocks (10.5 to 6.0) and aces (8 to 0).
The Trojans started off the first set nicely, up 4-3, but that lead quickly became a 10-5 deficit. Although they recovered with a nice dig by Douglas midway through the set, it was too little, too late. The Bruins took the first set 25-18.
In the second set, the Trojans kept pace early. At one point the two teams were tied at 8 apiece, but the Bruins went on to win 3 of the next 4 points to burst out in front, 12-9. Later on, a nice spike from sophomore Connor Inlow kept USC in the set at 16-13. After that, however, UCLA went on a 5-1 run to jump ahead 21-14. The Bruins took the second set 25-19.
The Trojans went into desperation mode in the third set, while the Bruins appeared to be at the top of their game. Like in the first set, USC started off well, up 3-2 early on. But before the Trojans could blink their eyes, they fell behind 6-10. Later, trailing by 13-9, Benesh and freshman Lucas Lossone put up some clutch blocks to pull the Trojans within striking distance. Yoder continued to keep the Trojans alive with some nice kills, but on match point, down 17-24, a UCLA spike deflected off a Trojan and into the crowd. The Bruins swept the Trojans, 3-0.
USC now faces an uphill battle as it hopes to make the MPSF conference tournament. However, two out of the team’s final three matches are at home. They finish with UC Santa Barbara and Cal-Baptist at the Galen Center and Cal-Baptist on the road. The Trojans have played well at home this year, going 6-4 after the loss to UCLA tonight. If they can win two more games at home down the stretch, their chances at the conference tournament should be solid.
The Trojans will take on UCSB at the Galen Center on Friday at 7 p.m.