RAINBOW WARRIOR VOLLEYBALL
Warriors always take Bruins seriously
Hawaii has been hot since its last meeting with UCLA
After a flurry of confidence-building matches on the road, Hawaii is back home to face what many consider the Warriors' biggest rival and greatest nemesis: UCLA.
No. 4 Hawaii has two chances to avenge one of its three losses of the season when hosting the No. 9 Bruins in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matches Friday and Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The meetings are tales of two programs that have gone in opposite directions since meeting here on Jan. 20 in the Outrigger Hotels Invitational.
Since falling to UCLA in five games some seven weeks ago, the Warriors (11-4, 9-3 MPSF) have gone 8-2 and won their last seven. Conversely, the Bruins (11-9. 5-7) have gone 8-6, ending a three-match skid last night against Loyola-Chicago, 30-32, 30-27, 30-26, 28-30, 15-11.
"But it doesn't matter," Hawaii senior libero Alfred Reft said yesterday. "They're UCLA. They always find a way to win. Regardless of their record, you can never count them out.
"They're a good team and we saw how well they played against us the last time."
Hawaii had match point on UCLA at 14-13 only to see the Bruins score the final three points of the match to pull out the five-setter. The final two points came on Warriors errors, Reft's overpass of a serve slammed back by Sean O'Malley and Lauri Hakala hitting wide to end it.
Since then, Hawaii has improved its passing game and diversified its offense. Throw out the zombie-like performance in the loss to No. 2 UC Irvine, and the Warriors have played with efficiency and passion.
And, except for a brief appearance by senior opposite Matt Bender at Cal State Northridge almost two weeks ago, Hawaii has done it without one of their leaders. Bender, hampered by an ankle injury all season, lifted the Warriors emotionally and physically against the Matadors on Feb. 25.
"Having your best player on the bench, being able to come in like he did at Northridge, is a pretty good thing," UH associate coach Tino Reyes said. "It's nice to know we have someone like that.
"We know UCLA is struggling, trying to figure out who they're going to play. But we're more worried about ourselves. UCLA always plays well here. We just need to be ready."
"These are pretty important matches for us," Beckwith said. "It's always big to play the Bruins. They always come out here hungry and they love playing here as much as we do.
"This is the best place to play volleyball in the country. Pauley Pavilion is right up there but when you talk about fans, this is the best place to play.
"Sure, there is motivation. There's always motivation to beat UCLA. They're known as a dynasty throughout the league and they always put a good team together. It's always nice to beat the Bruins."
Personally, Beckwith and Reft are 2-4 in their UH careers against UCLA. As a team, the Warriors trail in the series 45-16.
"I'd like to say we're better than we were when we last played them," Reft said. "Obviously, we're still trying to fine-tune a lot of things but we're progressing nicely.
"We're a little more experienced as a unit. I've got to believe, with all the work the guys are putting in, we're getting better and better.
"After that game (Jan. 20) ... you just have to let it go. It was a learning experience and we don't want to happen again."