GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Jose Delgado and the Warriors will take on UCLA tomorrow and Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Bruins mean business
UCLA is on a mission
to take back the top ranking
from the Hawaii Warriors
It's an important series. It must be.
UCLA at Hawaii
When: Tomorrow and Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live both nights, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: Live both nights, KKEA 1420-AM
Al Scates is not bringing his golf clubs.
The UCLA Bruins' volleyball coach enjoys his trips to Hawaii, catching up with former players who live here and usually getting in a round or two of golf.
But not this time. The focus is strictly on volleyball, not trying to bring down his 19 handicap to its offseason 12.
This is a business trip, the purpose of which is to regain the No. 1-ranking and the edge in the race for the top seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. Current No. 1 Hawaii is in the way and will bring along its eight-match win streak into the 7 p.m. contests tomorrow and Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Warriors (10-2, 7-1) also bring in another streak: an unprecedented four-match winning skein over the No. 2 Bruins (12-2, 7-2). Hawaii has not lost to UCLA since the 2002 Outrigger Hotels Invitational.
Last season, the Warriors also doubled up the number of wins against the Bruins in Pauley Pavilion. Hawaii swept UCLA on its home court for the first time and is now 4-20 there.
The rivalry is intense, albeit a bit one-sided. The Bruins hold the series edge 41-14, with a 21-10 lead when playing at the Sheriff Center against the Warriors. (UCLA is 1-0 at a neutral site).
The Bruins have rebounded from their worst-ever season (15-14) with a vengeance. After missing the playoffs for the first time in history, UCLA has lost just twice, both in MPSF play.
The first was at Stanford in the conference opener and "we had a horrible match," Scates said of the Jan. 16 defeat. "Just about anyone could have beat us.
"And against Long Beach State (Feb. 11), we had a bad first game. That's been a trend with us, losing the first game, except this time we couldn't rebound. They beat us up."
The Bruins were swept by No. 3 Long Beach State, 30-19, 30-28, 30-25. They rebounded with wins over UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara, both victories coming in four and both coming after dropping Game 1.
The Warriors have dropped only two games in the last eight matches, one each to Ball State and at Pacific. They haven't played since the 3-1 win over the Tigers on Feb. 13.
It hasn't been hard for Hawaii to stay focused, despite the layoff. As UH libero Alfred Reft says, "It's UCLA."
"UCLA has such prestige, especially in volleyball," said the sophomore, who transferred this season from UC Santa Barbara. "They're always a premier power.
"Coming out of high school, that's where I wanted to go. I watched a lot of their matches. I think I saw Hawaii play there in '95. After last year, I thought I'd transfer and go there just for the education."
Instead, Reft transferred to Hawaii, beating out senior Jake Muise for the starting job. He and freshman setter Brian Beckwith, starting in place of senior Kimo Tuyay, are two players who have improved the Warriors, according to Scates. Junior Delano Thomas, who has moved from middle to outside, is also a concern.
"It's hard to stop Thomas because he jumps so well," said Scates. "Hawaii is a well-balanced, solid team. I think they're in contention (for the MPSF title) but they haven't played some of the other good teams. They haven't seen BYU or Pepperdine. This will be a good test for us."
It will also be a good measuring stick for the Warriors, who have not played the five teams ranked below them: UCLA, Long Beach State, Brigham Young, Pepperdine and Cal State Northridge.
"We can gauge how much improvement we've made since the beginning of the year," said associate head coach Tino Reyes. "It's a good chance to find out how good we are. I don't know if people consider us in that top tier of teams. We're hoping to move into that.
"UCLA is the flagship program in our sport. They may have had a down year, but they're still the flagship (18 NCAA titles). It's always nice to beat them. Even if they trotted out Al (the 64-year-old Scates) and five of his buddies ... if they had worn UCLA uniforms, we still would have been happy to beat them, especially at their place."
Notes: Hawaii received 13 of 15 first-place votes to remain in the top spot of the USA Today/AVCA Division I-II Coaches Top 15. UCLA stayed in second, with one vote, with Long Beach State still at third, with the other two votes ... The Bruins will be without junior hitter Jonathan Acosta, who is still recuperating from a burst appendix. He was the MVP of the 2001 Outrigger Hotels Invitational ... Hawaii rested senior hitter Arri Jeschke (sore shoulder) during yesterday's practice ... Reft will be the focus of his church's "Day in the Life" series when the Kalihi Church of Christ films the player tomorrow for an upcoming broadcast.