USC's Tony Ciarelli wanted to try it, but the attempt seemed too risky.
All Saturday night, the freshman outside hitter had fired rocket-fast deep serves at Pepperdine.
Now, at 20-19 in the fifth game of the championship match of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball tournament, Ciarelli pondered a change-up.
"I was thinking it was way too risky," Ciarelli said. "And then I thought, 'Why not?' "
Ciarelli rolled a serve just over the net, taking the Waves by surprise for an ace that gave the Trojans the victory at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center and propelled them into the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 1991.
USC outlasted the Waves, 30-23, 30-25, 20-30, 26-30, 21-19, putting the Trojans in position to win their first national title since 1990.
The Final Four will be played May 7 and 9 at Brigham Young in Provo, Utah.
"Unbelievable," said sophomore outside hitter Murphy Troy, who led USC with 23 kills. "I don't think I've ever been part of a match like that."
The victory completed a dramatic tournament run for the Trojans, who defeated Stanford and top-ranked Irvine to earn the chance to play Pepperdine, which had defeated USC twice this season.
USC (20-10) had finished the regular season by winning only two of six tough road matches at UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge, Irvine, UCLA and two at Hawaii.
"That stretch basically prepared these guys for this moment," USC Coach Bill Ferguson said after the victory over Pepperdine. "It got us ready."
So did a Friday speech from Trojans football Coach Pete Carroll, who told the players to trust themselves and not try to do too much.
With Carroll and his wife, Glena, in the crowd, it didn't look as if there would be any need for last-minute heroics when USC won the first two games. But the Waves (22-5) came back behind senior outside hitter Paul Carroll, who finished with 37 kills.
"Any time you have Paul Carroll on your team, you have a chance," said Ciarelli, who had 19 kills.
USC took control early in the decisive fifth game, Troy's cross-court kill giving the Trojans an 8-5 lead at the changeover. But Carroll, outside hitter Brent Schirripa and middle blocker Rodnei Santos helped the Waves pull even at 11-11.
From that point, it became a slugfest, the teams trading one-point leads, only to see the score tied eight more times.
But with Ciarelli serving at 19-19, Carroll hit a ball out.
"Probably the luckiest thing that happened to us all night," Ciarelli said.
That gave the freshman from Huntington Beach his chance to win the match.