Saturday night’s match between top-ranked UCLA and No. 3 Stanford could well have been played for the national championship, had regional scheduling cooperated.
It didn’t, and Stanford will have to try again next season.
The top-ranked Bruins, utilizing the balance and consistency that has become their trademark, pounded away methodically at the Cardinal, winning the West Region in three games, 15-10, 15-8, 15-12, before 2,250 at UCLA’s Wooden Center.
For Stanford (27-4), the frustration continues against the Bruins, who are 3-0 against the Cardinal this season and 24-9 overall--including the last eight in a row.
The Bruins (34-1), who will meet Louisiana State in the Final Four semifinal next Thursday in College Park, Md., have now won three consecutive NCAA regional finals and are 7-1 in regional finals play.
“We were put in a tough situation,” Stanford Coach Don Shaw said of his team’s placement in the West along with the Bruins.
“Here we have two of the top three teams in the nation and we have to play in this situation.”
UCLA Coach Andy Banachowski agreed.
“Stanford is probably the most underrated team in the country,” he said.
“I’ve thought all along that they should be No. 2. (Saturday night) was a good example of high-quality volleyball and it’s a shame the whole country won’t be able to see it.”
After a fairly close--and lengthy--first game, it was clear that the Cardinal was indeed a tough situation. A tough serving game and the setting of Holly McPeak served to take the Cardinal out of its offense.
“It was a long game, but we gave them too many contact points,” Shaw said. “That kept them in the game.”
Perhaps, but McPeak had 61 assists and did an excellent job of reading Stanford’s blockers, and providing for a balanced offensive attack from all areas of the court in all three games.
“Their outside blockers were cheating in, so I tried to set a lot of flares and run more to the right side to avoid Bev (Oden) and Jessica (Benton),” McPeak said.
She was successful as Oden, the Pacific 10 Conference player of the year, was largely kept out of the game with only 18 kills, a team high but well below her usual performance. Benton finished with 10 kills.
“UCLA didn’t really take me out of the game,” Oden said. “They did a good job blocking everyone.”
Four Bruins were in double figures in kills, with Natalie Williams leading the way with 26.