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Long Beach, UCLA Post Upsets

49ers beat top-ranked UC Irvine, and Bruins defeat Pepperdine in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball semifinals.

April 28, 2006|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Win or else. That's the state of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball tournament, where upsets Thursday at UC Irvine set the stage for a winner-take-all conference final.

The winner goes to the NCAA Division I Final Four played at Penn State, the loser probably goes home, with the lone at-large playoff berth probably going to a semifinal loser.

Conference champion UC Irvine, ranked No. 1 in the nation, had its 21-game winning streak stopped by second-ranked Long Beach State, 30-26, 30-20, 30-23.

UCLA, the conference's seventh-place team but ranked fifth in the nation, won its 11th consecutive match by beating third-ranked Pepperdine, 30-26, 30-28, 30-22.

A week ago, the Bruins beat second-ranked Hawaii in four games. Despite a 12-10 conference record, the Bruins are playing as if they belong in the NCAA championship.

"We've been counted out," said UCLA senior setter Dennis Gonzalez, making his first start in 12 matches after an ankle injury. "Now you've got to count us in."

Well, only if the Bruins (23-12), trying to win their 25th conference title under Coach Al Scates, beat Long Beach (23-9) Saturday night at 7 at UC Irvine.

"The at-large criteria is clearly determined by league record and your consistency over the course of the year," said Irvine Coach John Speraw, whose team swept UCLA twice this season.

"The criteria [Scates] designed is to look at the entire season. The teams that get hot at the end of the season, their way to get into the tournament is to win the conference tournament."

Irvine is 27-4 but was no match for the likes of senior Robert Tarr, who had 15 kills, and sophomore Norm Hutton, who had 22, including five among his team's last seven points.

UCLA beat Pepperdine (17-8) for the first time in three matches dating to last year's NCAA final, which Pepperdine won in five games. The Bruins haven't lost since being swept by the Waves on March 16.

Gonzalez dealt 48 of UCLA's 53 assists and had a team-high six digs. Paul George led the Bruins with 16 kills, and 6-foot-11 Nick Scheftic had 14 with a .650 hitting percentage.

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