“The national championship match was a classic and obviously this one is too,” said USC Coach Bill Ferguson, whom, UCI Coach John Speraw credited with making the necessary adjustments to pull his team out of a severe opening funk.
“I thought we came out and did exactly what we needed to do early,” said Speraw, whose team thumped the Trojans (4-1, 2-0 in the MPSF) badly in the first two sets. “And then [the Trojans] changed and we didn’t change.”
USC was hitting .078 after the first two games, while UCI (4-2, 1-1) had posted a .393 hitting percentage.
UCI, led by junior outside hitter Jordan DuFault’s career-high 30 kills, wound up hitting .345 to USC’s .235.
UCI won the blocking battle (14 team blocks to four), had more digs (44-43) and assists (70-65), while breaking even in aces (seven apiece).
But it was little solace for the defending national champions, who lost for only the second time in their last 13 meetings with USC.
“We need to be a more adaptable team,” Speraw said. “We didn’t play smart and I always want my teams to play smart. When we play smart, we beat that team, at least the way we were playing tonight.
“But, overall, I’m encouraged. That was the No. 1 team in America and they should be. They return everybody [losing only their starting libero from last year’s squad], and we obviously lost a lot of points because we have some new people on the floor.”
DuFault and fellow returning All-American Carson Clark, a sophomore opposite, held up for the hosts. DuFault hit .431 and Clark hit .333 with 22 kills, while adding three of the ’Eaters’ seven aces.
Senior Bryan Simmons, who sparkled in the NCAA title match, was once again a USC foil. He had nine block assists and two solo blocks, while also producing four kills and five set assists.