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UCLA Reaches Title Match; Pepperdine Out


FORT WAYNE, Ind. — It's not as if he lost any sleep over it this week.

Or tortured himself by watching tape of what happened here six years ago, almost to the day.

But UCLA Coach Al Scates smiled a little when he said with simple satisfaction, "It's finally gone."

The fact that mighty UCLA lost to Penn State in the 1994 NCAA men's volleyball championship, still a stunner to this day, can retreat a little farther into Scates' memory thanks to the Bruins' 15-11, 15-8, 15-10 victory over the Nittany Lions in an NCAA semifinal Thursday at Allen County Coliseum.

On Saturday, UCLA will face Ohio State, a 17-15, 15-9, 15-10 semifinal winner over Pepperdine.

Scates, who earlier this week said he tried to "completely repress" the earlier loss to the Nittany Lions, had no reason to squelch his thoughts this time.

He can thank his seniors.

Middle blocker Seth Burnham, in the fifth year of a career that, until this season, featured few ups and many downs because of a severe knee injury, delivered 11 kills in 16 attempts.

All-American setter Brandon Taliaferro served a match-high four aces and efficiently conducted the flow of the offense with 52 assists for the top-seeded Bruins (28-5).

But it was opposite hitter Evan Thatcher who made the biggest impact.

The 6-foot-8 senior, who has split time with Ed Ratledge throughout the season, made sure he wouldn't come off the court Thursday, drilling 16 kills in 28 attempts.

"I realized this week that I have two matches left and then I'm out of here," Thatcher said. "All I want to do is win."

If the Bruins demonstrate the same ability to extend a lead, they'll be in good shape.

UCLA held slight edges in the first game, 12-11, and the second, 9-8, but closed out each by not allowing another point.

The close games against fourth-seeded Penn State (20-14) briefly triggered thoughts of 1994.

"I thought about it a little bit during the match," Scates admitted. "But that [Penn State] team was stronger than this team."

Third-seeded Ohio State (25-3) proved to be stronger than second-seeded Pepperdine (22-6) in the other semifinal.

Pepperdine swept Ohio State in a nonconference match in March, but the Waves were stymied Thursday, as evidenced by 32 hitting errors, 14 by Keith Barnett.

The loss ended the year for interim Coach Jeff Stork, who guided the Waves while Marv Dunphy was assisting the U.S. national team.

"Obviously, tonight we got beat by a better team," said Stork, who received 23 kills from Andre Breuer.

Pepperdine led in the first game, 14-9, but could not close it out. "If we win that, we have ourselves a different match," Stork said.

The Buckeyes are in the finals for the first time since 1977.

"At the start of every year, you read the UCLA media guide and you realize they expect to be here every year," Ohio State Coach Pete Hanson said. "But I don't think our guys are going to look over to the other side of the net and worry about that volleyball reputation."

NCAA Final

* Saturday: UCLA (28-5)

vs. Ohio State (25-3),

11 a.m. PDT, ESPN2.

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