As was often the case in seasons past, a dominant blocking effort from No. 3 Brigham Young University spelled doom for No. 12 UC Santa Barbara, who fell to the Cougars by a score of 3-1 on Friday night, with game score of 28-30, 25-17, 25-16, 25-22. The Gauchos fall to 4-9 (2-7) with Friday's defeat, while BYU- winners of five straight- improve to 11-3 with a 7-2 conference record.
The Gauchos were led by junior outside hitter Miles Evans, who picked up 13 kills on the night, pushing his streak of 10+ kill matches to six straight. Evans was just one dig away from a double-double, finishing with nine. Freshman outside hitter Kevin Donohue followed up his double-double from last Friday with an 11-kill, two-ace performance on Friday night. However, both players were held under a .100 hitting percentage for the night, combining for a total of 20 of UCSB's 31 attacking errors.
Sophomore libero Chad Kingi finished with 12 digs, the fifth match in a row in which he has recorded nine or more digs. Junior setter Oliver Deutschman had a strong night as well, pulling off several acrobatic back-sets on the way to 38 assists and nine digs.
The Cougars, who are operating without Taylor Sander, the reigning MPSF Freshman of the Year and conference leader in kills and points, received outstanding performances from three players. Middle blocker Russ Lavaja, who entered the game ranked third in the conference in blocking, led all players with 11 block assists. Senior outside hitter Robb Stowell had a match-high 17 kills, and setter Joe Kauliakamoa did a little bit of everything against the Gauchos, recording a career and season-high six kills and a team-high nine digs on top of his 47 assists.
Despite eventually winning the set with 30 points, the Gauchos were behind for the majority of the first set. Surrendering the first three points of the match, UCSB wasn't able to square things up until 20-20. Sophomore middle blocker Evan Licht was responsible for creating most of the momentum that made the comeback possible. Down 17-12, a quick-strike from Licht gave the Gauchos the serve. With Oliver Deutschman serving, Licht recorded a block or kill on the next three points, bringing UCSB back within one point of the third-ranked Cougars. Licht finished the night with four kills and two blocks.
The two teams would trade points from there on out- after just one tie and no lead changes through the first 41 points, there were 10 ties and five lead changes over the final 17 points. An attacking error by Stowell gave the Gauchos the first chance to clinch the match at 23-24. A triple block from BYU on the ensuing point extended the set. It was not until UCSB's fourth set-point at 28-29 that they were able to put away the Cougars, as an over pass off of a Kevin Donohue serve landed wide of the court.
BYU was able to get off to hot starts in each of the following three sets, but it wasn't until the fourth game that the Gauchos were able to once again put up a fight. Down 15-9, a double-block from junior middle blocker Dylan Davis and freshman outside hitter Austin Kingi sparked a rally that would see UCSB claim nine of the next 11 points. Austin Kingi, in his UCSB debut, tallied seven kills, four digs, and a pair of block assists. Davis also had seven kills, while totaling a team-high five block assists.
That last comeback would be all the Gauchos had left in the tank, however, as Lavaja and Stowell took over the end of the match. The two accounted for the final four BYU points, and four of the final six overall, as they recorded a kill apiece as well as teaming up on two blocks.
For the match, UCSB was outblock as a team 19.5 to 9.0 by BYU. That blocking advantage extended past that single statistic however, as the Gauchos were also held to a measly .105 hitting percentage. In fact, UCSB's team hitting percentage was held under .100 in each of the final three sets, whereas the Cougars averaged a .259 clip for the match.
Tomorrow night, the Gauchos will once again play BYU at Smith Fieldhouse. Barring a postseason matchup, it will be the last time the two play each other this season. The match will be streamed live online via BYU Sports. The link for the match can be found by following this link.