LOS ANGELES — BYU looked every bit like the tournament favorite in a dominating straight-set victory over Penn State in the NCAA semifinals at Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA on Thursday night. The Cougars used a standout performance from All-American Taylor Sander and great defensive play at the net to emerge with the win.
Sander led the way with a game-high 17 kills, while Ben Patch added 12. The Cougars were especially good with their block — recording 12 1/2 team blocks, with Devin Young and Patch producing six and five blocks, respectively.
"We got a complete team effort and a lot of different guys stepped up," said BYU coach Chris McGown.
BYU will square off against UC Irvine for the NCAA championship Saturday night at 7 p.m. MDT.
On Thursday, the Nittany Lions were led by Aaron Russell and his team-high 13 kills.
The Cougars posted a .345 hitting percentage, while Penn State hit only .151 for the match.
Penn State jumped out early to a 3-1 lead, but it was all BYU after that in the first set. The Cougars responded with a 14-7 run to take a 15-10 lead and then cruised to a 25-21 win despite a late run by the Nittany Lions. Sander led the way with five kills, but BYU’s 7-0 blocks advantage was the key stat.
The Cougars rolled in the second set — outscoring the Nittany Lions 17-7 after falling behind 9-8 to take the set in relatively easy fashion, 25-16. Seldom-used Phil Fuchs played a key role, using his powerful serve for six straight points to give BYU a 20-13 lead and all but put the set away.
In the third set, BYU fell behind 6-1 early and trailed most of the way. However, the Cougars slowly chipped away at Penn State’s lead to ultimately take the set and the match, 25-22. Josue Rivera ended a long rally with a kill that gave the Cougars the match and sent them to the NCAA finals.
Backup Tyler Heap stepped up big for a struggling Ryan Boyce at the critical setter position in the third and final set. Heap ended the match with a team-high 18 assists with Boyce adding 16.
The third-set performance typified a season full of comebacks and a never-quit attitude that led BYU to its regular season and postseason MPSF championships.
"That third set sort of typified the type of effort and play we've had from these guys all season and we just grinded out the win," said McGown. "I was really proud of our defensive effort. We got a lot of nice touches at the net and we blocked a lot of balls."
UC Irvine takes down Loyola-Chicago in straight sets
The No. 2-seeded Anteaters needed just three sets to get by No. 3 seed Loyola-Chicago (26-24, 25-18, 29-27) to advance to the NCAA championship match. Kevin Tillie led the way for UC Irvine with a game-high 14 kills on a .579 hitting percentage. The Anteaters combined for a phenomenal .500 team hitting percentage.
Loyola-Chicago was led by Cody Caldwell and Joseph Smalzer, who had 12 and 11 kills, respectively.