LOS ANGELES — In this, the men's volleyball version of the Big Dance, UC Irvine did the equivalent of leaning against the wall, before getting fully into its groove.
For the third straight match, No. 1-seeded UCI fell behind early, allowing No. 4-seeded Penn State to boogie its way to a one-set lead.
But, just like the final two Mountain Pacific Tournament matches, when the Anteaters rallied to win in five games after losing the first two sets, they found their rhythm in time to advance in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship Thursday at USC's Galen Center.
It turns out, all UCI needed to quell a little star-struck anxiety was a quick dose of defeat, as it claimed an 18-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-19 triumph that moved the 'Eaters one victory away from the program's third national title in six seasons.
UCI (25-5) will face host USC (24-5) in Saturday's championship match at 7 p.m. USC beat Lewis, 25-18, 25-12, 18-25, 27-25.