to meet in final
LOS ANGELES » Smoke and mirrors?
The Pauley Pavilion mystique?
Those needing answers to how injury-plagued UCLA managed to beat up on a very good Penn State team last night would be just as well-served by thumbing through "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" as looking anywhere else.
The Bruin players didn't know their starting lineup until an hour before their NCAA Championship semifinal match against the Nittany Lions. Even then, UCLA coach Al Scates had to be talked into using senior Brennan Prahler at opposite instead of usual starter Steve Klosterman. He then mulled over whether to let senior middle Allan Vince play on a severely sprained ankle and use freshman reserve setter Gaby Acevedo after senior Dennis Gonzalez was sidelined with a broken finger two weeks ago.
Somehow, it all added up to a UCLA victory in front of a season-high crowd of 5,125. The Bruins (26-5) silenced the critics who questioned their at-large selection by sweeping the Nittany Lions 30-20, 30-24, 30-27 in 94 minutes.
UCLA, seeking its 19th national championship -- and first since 2000 -- will face league rival Pepperdine in tomorrow's championship (5 p.m. Hawaii time, live on ESPN2). The top-ranked Waves (24-2) needed 95 minutes to sweep Ohio State 30-16, 31-29, 30-26 in last night's second semifinal.
The Buckeyes got 14 kills from Mark Greaves and 12 from Andy Cole in finishing the year at 24-8.
Senior hitter Sean Rooney celebrated his Player of the Year award with match highs of 19 kills and four aces in leading the Waves to a sixth consecutive win. Kamehameha graduate James Ka, Pepperdine's senior libero, had 12 of the team's 34 digs.
Rooney accounted for Pepperdine's final three points of a tight Game 2 with a kill, a block and an ace to help propel the Waves to a sweep and into their third title match in four seasons.
It will be the third meeting of the season between the two Mountain Pacific Sports Federation teams and sets up an All-MPSF final for the 30th time in 36 NCAA title matches. The teams split during the season, with UCLA winning 3-0 at Pauley Pavilion and Pepperdine winning in five in Malibu.
Last night, Prahler put down a season-high 17 kills and Jonathan Acosta added 16 to help put the Bruins into the title match for the 24th time. Vince had four of the team's eight aces as UCLA improved to 25-0 when competing in the final four at home.
It was just the seventh start of the season for Prahler, a 2000 Punahou graduate who walked on five years ago and didn't play at all last season.
"You just have to be ready to go, always be ready to go," said Prahler, who sprained his ankle twice this season. "All the hard work and the waiting to play ... it's worth it to have a chance to end my senior year Saturday with a championship."
The Bruins were in control the entire way against the Nittany Lions (30-4), who got 11 kills each from Matt Proper and Alex Gutor. Conference player of the year Keith Kowal, a senior blocker, was a non-factor in the middle (five kills on nine swings) as Penn State had trouble passing and running a middle attack.
Penn State lost in the semifinals for the seventh straight year.