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UC Santa Barbara upsets top-ranked USC again in men's volleyball

The Gauchos are one more win away from the NCAA championship after splitting a tough first two sets and then pulling away in relatively easy fashion, 29-27, 24-26, 25-15 and 25-18.

May 05, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • UC Santa Barbara's Cullen Irons goes up for the final kill against USC blockers Tri Bourne (17) and Steven Shandrick during the NCAA semifinals on Thursday.
UC Santa Barbara's Cullen Irons goes up for the final kill against… (Abby Drey / Associated Press )

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos relish the underdog role so much they have proclaimed themselves the Cinderella team of the men's volleyball postseason.

After another upset of top-ranked USC, the upstart Gauchos are one more win away from taking on another moniker: NCAA champions.

Cullen Irons and Dylan Davis each had 15 kills and Santa Barbara split a rough-and-tumble first two sets with the powerhouse Trojans before pulling away in relatively easy fashion, 29-27, 24-26, 25-15 and 25-18.

"Whatever seed you give us is fine. Because we know what we are and we're OK with it," Santa Barbara Coach Rick McLaughlin said about his team's underdog mentality. "We're just going to keep proving it."

The Gauchos (18-14) move on to face the winner of Thursday night's late match between Penn State and Ohio State.

First though, they will savor a second postseason upset of USC in six days after getting swept by the Trojans in six sets in the teams' two regular season meetings.

Tri Bourne had 20 kills to lead USC (23-4), while Murphy Troy added 18 but had eight of USC's 20 service errors.

"We knew that we could pretty much kill them if we played like we did in the regular season," Bourne said. "It's just hard to keep the mind-set that they're getting [hyped] for the game and they're not the same team we played in the regular season."

No two teams had as divergent resumes entering postseason play as USC and Santa Barbara.

The Trojans were a preseason favorite, ranked No. 1 from wire-to-wire. The Gauchos limped into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament having lost two straight and four of its last five to fall to 14-14.

They haven't lost since. A five-set victory over USC in the conference final clinched what was once an unlikely berth to the NCAAs.

"They're a tough group of guys. They won't let this season end," McLaughlin said.

Then, UCSB drew a No. 4 seeding in the tournament to set up a rematch with top-seeded USC.

It turned out to be an even easier win for the Gauchos, aided by the Trojans' mistakes on the serve and Davis' frontcourt play. The 6-foot-9 senior hit 88% on the attack.

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