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Men's Volleyball: UCI upended in five

BYU rallies for five-set win over No. 1-ranked Anteaters, who miss chance to close out sweep.

March 01, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • UC Irvine's Kevin Tillie reacts to losing to BYU in five games.
UC Irvine's Kevin Tillie reacts to losing to BYU… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

IRVINE — In a showdown of the nation's men's volleyball elite, two was certainly better than one Friday night.

No. 2-ranked BYU consistently came up with more answers than top-ranked UCI, enabling the Cougars to rally for a 22-25, 24-26, 25-23, 25-23, 15-11 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation victory in front of 2,906 at the Bren Events Center.

UCI (15-4, 12-4 in conference), which came in on an 11-match winning streak that began after a four-game setback at BYU on Jan. 18, handled the visitors in the opening two sets and held leads of 14-8 and 19-14 in Game 3.

But the Cougars (12-3, 11-2) tapped into a sizable collection of rooters to generate the energy necessary to overcome and prevail.

Ben Patch, a 6-foot-8 freshman opposite out of Provo High, carried the Cougars with a career-high 35 kills with a .375 hitting percentage to compensate for a down night from All-American Taylor Sander (eight kills and a negative .049 clip).

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UCI posted 17 team blocks, including a school-record 14 block assists by 6-7 junior middle blocker Collin Mehring, who added 11 kills and hit a team-best .556. But whatever advantage their blocking gave them (11-3 after two sets and 15-9 after three before the Cougars eventually closed the game to 17-14), the Anteaters gave away with a season-worst 23 service errors.

UCI did have nine aces, including four from senior All-American Kevin Tillie and three by fellow jump-server Jeremy Dejno. But BYU, which had two aces and only 12 missed serves, gladly took the free points, some of which seemingly rescued them from dire straights.

Kniffin said it was missed float serves more than jump serves that helped gave BYU an unearned benefit.

What's more, UCI's trademark depth failed to produce a hero off the bench and was particularly glaring in the latter stretches of Game 4, when super sub Connor Hughes, who came to the rescue by replacing Dejno in the starting lineup during last season's NCAA title run, made some costly errors in relief.

"We fell into a little bit of a mental slump there," Kniffin said of his team's failure to close out the victory. "The encouraging thing about this is, we didn't lose this match because we were an inferior volleyball team. We got on a roller coaster with BYU and they took us for a ride."

The ride included a 55-38 edge in digs, and narrow advantages in setting and hitting percentages.

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