In a matchup of the nation's top-ranked men's college volleyball teams, No. 1 USC defeated No. 2 UC Irvine on Thursday night in a semifinal of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament at the Galen Center.
The Trojans (23-2) won, 3-1 (25-19, 22-25, 25-20, 25-23), and advanced to face No. 5 UC Santa Barbara in the MPSF final at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Galen Center.
The winner of that final will earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Final Four next week at Penn State University. The Final Four matches will be held May 5 and 7.
In both meetings between the teams this season, USC beat UC Santa Barbara in straight sets.
The Gauchos advanced to the final by upsetting No. 3 Long Beach State, 3-1 (25-17, 26-28, 25-20, 25-23), in Thursday's other semifinal.
USC, which has its most victories in a season since it won 24 in 1999, dispatched the team it had beaten in four straight matches since UC Irvine (19-12) beat USC in the 2009 NCAA title match.
The Anteaters can still earn an at-large bid to the Final Four, but UC Irvine Coach John Speraw said he doesn't expect that to happen.
"I would be surprised," he said.
USC junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, a second-team All-American, had 23 kills, and USC senior outside hitter Murphy Troy, a first-team All-American and the 2011 MPSF player of the year, added 17 kills.
USC had 43 digs to UC Irvine's 31 and 64 kills to its 51.
"They're a fun team to play against, and they're even more fun to beat," Ciarelli said.
Long Beach State (15-14) had beaten UC Santa Barbara in both meetings this season before Thursday, and both teams entered having upset top-10 teams in their quarterfinal matches.
But the Gauchos (16-14), who had upset No. 7 Brigham Young, had big advantages in blocks (28 to 15) while the 49ers, who had upset No. 3 Stanford, were hurt with 22 missed serves.
UC Santa Barbara senior outside hitter Jeff Menzel had 23 kills after recording 27 against BYU.
"Not a lot of teams give us any credit and that's their downfall," Menzel said. "BYU did that. Long Beach did that. Let's hope USC doesn't do that."