LOS ANGELES — On a night dripping with nostalgia, tradition and ceremony, the UC Irvine men's volleyball team made what Coach John Speraw termed a ceremonial appearance in the final match played in the existing structure that is UCLA's storied Pauley Pavilion.
Thursday's result was a 25-20, 26-24, 25-21 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation victory for the Bruins, who closed the venerable facility that was opened by Coach Al Scates' volleyball program in 1965 on a note befitting a program with 24 national titles.
Speraw, who played for and coached with Scates, was not unaware of the proud tradition in Pauley, which will undergo renovations beginning April 1 and reopen the fall of 2012. But the only historical reference Speraw was in a mood to consider after his team's first three-game loss in nearly two months, was a recollection about the last time the Anteaters played this poorly.
"I was watching that and I couldn't believe how badly we were playing," said Speraw, whose No. 5-ranked team fell to 12-11, 9-8 in the MPSF. "That is the worst volleyball match I've seen this program have in … years. I can't remember the last match that was that brutal.
"I'm disappointed, because I expected the team [coming off a 12-day layoff from a stretch of eight matches that included six victories] to come in and be fired up. We've been playing well, this was a big night and I thought we were going to compete. [We] didn't compete; didn't even dream of competing. And I'm upset about it."
It was the sixth straight triumph for the No. 7-ranked Bruins (14-9, 7-8), whose last match had been March 11.
UCLA rallied from deficits of 12-7 and 23-21 to win the second game, and trailed, 18-17, in Game 3, before closing things out in 84 minutes, then posing for pictures at the net.
The Bruins hit .279 as a team, 96 points better than the 'Eaters, and their six aces doubled the total produced by the visitors.
Junior All-American opposite Carson Clark led UCI with 12 kills, but hit just .143. He had two of his team's three aces.
Junior outside hitter Jordan DuFault, another All-American, had six kills with a .455 hitting percentage. No other Anteater had more than three kills.
"There was a lot of execution stuff that went on," Speraw said. "I thought we had a good game plan … and yet we just couldn't be a step ahead of where we needed to be. I don't know if it was that we were so frustrated with that way things were going, we just couldn't get out of frustration mode and execute, or what.
"A lot of [the failure] was what we did. We didn't hit with range and we didn't set very well. I'm [ticked] at myself for not making some more [personnel] changes.
"I'm sure some might think, ah coach is [ticked] off because it was UCLA and it's his alma mater. But that's bull. I'm [ticked] off because this team didn't come out and compete … Maybe you come into a gym that you're unfamiliar with, it's a big gym, and there's nobody here and the depth perception is different and it's a different environment … You figure by Game 2 or Game 3, we'd start playing volleyball and they just decided not to. That is just incredibly frustrating."
Newport Harbor High products Kyle Caldwell, a 6-foot-9 junior opposite, and Weston Dunlap, a 6-8 junior middle blocker, had eight and seven kills, respectively for UCLA, which was led by junior Jeremy Casebeer's 10 kills.
Dunlap, who came in leading the Bruins in kills and total blocks, had a team-best four block assists.
UCI returns to action Saturday at home against No. 3-ranked Ohio State. It's the final home match for the Anteaters, who will honor four seniors. Speraw must hope his team responds better to all the pomp and circumstance.