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UCI tops No. 1 USC in semis

Men's Volleyball

Anteaters rally from two games down to advance to Saturday's MPSF Tournament final vs. Stanford.

April 26, 2012|By Barry Faulkner

LOS ANGELES — UC Irvine men's volleyball coach John Speraw said USC had managed to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season title and the top national ranking without facing a most formidable opponent: pressure.

But by rallying from a two-game deficit to force a fifth set in the MPSF Tournament semifinals Thursday at USC's Galen Center, Speraw's Anteaters squarely placed the burden of pressure on the No. 1-seeded hosts.

By that time, UCI was at least as formidable a concern for USC, and the Anteaters prevailed to close out a 24-26, 23-25, 25-16, 28-26, 15-9 victory to keep their NCAA title hopes alive.

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UCI junior All-American outside hitter Kevin Tillie led the No. 2-ranked Anteaters (23-5) with 23 kills and hit .372, despite having limped off the court briefly with what appeared to be a right ankle injury early in Game 2.

Senior outside hitter Kevin Carroll came off the bench late in the third set to contribute 12 kills, while senior All-American Carson Clark finished with 14 kills for the winners.

Clark had three aces and Tillie two as UCI totaled eight aces, while committing 26 service errors.

With the win, UCI advances to face Stanford (22-6) in the final on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center. The Anteaters and Cardinal split their two regular-season meetings with Stanford sweeping host UCI on Feb. 17 and the 'Eaters posting a four-game triumph at Stanford on March 3.

Saturday's winner gets an automatic berth in the four-team NCAA Championship, held May 3 and May 5 at the Galen Center. Should UCI lose Saturday, it would likely battle USC for the lone at-large berth into the Final Four.

UCI junior setter Chris Austin had a match-high 62 assists as the Anteaters amassed 74 kills and hit .290 as a team. Austin also led the 'Eaters with 12 digs, one more than Tillie.

USC (23-5) had 46 kills and hit .194 as a team. In the fifth set, UCI hit .360, while the Trojans hit .053.

UCI sophomore outside hitter Connor Hughes had a season-high 10 kills in the early going, but was eventually pulled in favor of Carroll.

"I pulled [Hughes], because he wasn't playing well on the pins, so I decided to play a senior. I gave Carroll a chance to save the day and he did."

Said Tillie: "Coming onto the court for the third set, we said we've been close. We wanted to just keep playing hard. We just stopped thinking about being in the semis and just started to play."

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