PROVO — Wild and memorable things usually happen when the BYU men's volleyball team takes on UCLA, with Thursday night's match at the Smith Fieldhouse very much following the form of one of the best volleyball rivalries in the country. In the end it was the Cougars, battling through injury and a 2-0 set deficit, winning out in a five-set thriller (30-32, 21-25, 25-20, 25-16, 17-15).
Closing things out was standout BYU freshman Davide Gardini, scoring consecutive kills off the block for the win over the No. 4-ranked Bruins. For the match Gardini scored a match-high 20 kills on a .255 while proving central in the Cougars' turnaround and down the stretch.
"It was amazing, and it was just such a great match to be a part of," Gardini said. "I saw it coming my way and I just wanted to close it out so bad. I'm just happy to do it for my team and all our fans."
As good as things ended for the Cougars, almost nothing was going right in the third set, with the Bruins leading 14-10 early with the home crowd proving eerily quiet. Compounding matters considerably was the loss of setter Cyrus Fa'alogo to a lower leg injury early in the second set, which came on top of starting setter Wil Stanley not playing due to his own ankle injury.
But enter freshman Brody Earnest, who proved equal to the task as the Cougars began to find good rhythm to close out the third set and then dominate throughout the fourth.
"Brody has done a great job and I think that he was ready for this moment," said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. "We've had to make a lot of changes, I mean, look at our lineup ... It's not like it's this crazy thing because Brody has been practicing well, so I think that showed with us being able to start playing better."
The Cougars closed out the third set on a 7-3 run with Gardini ending things with a kill as the Smith Fieldhouse crowd got into things considerably.
Those things carried over into the fourth set, with Gardini taking center stage while playing arguably his best volleyball since arriving in Provo.
"He likes those moments," Olmstead said. "He's been playing volleyball at a high level for a long time, and it showed, as it did for Micah Ma'a."
Ma'a is UCLA's first-team All-American, who normally plays at setter, but was switched to outside hitter in the fifth set to perhaps provide a spark to the lagging Bruins. That spark lit, with Ma'a proving able to smash through kill opportunities while providing a lot of emotion.9 comments on this story
BYU matched UCLA and Ma'a's emotion throughout the fifth set, with the two teams trading points throughout, until a 3-0 run closed things out for the Cougars, with Gardini scoring the final two.
"I hope these guys understand how fortunate they are to be in these matches," Olmstead said. "...It's exciting and I wouldn't expect this to go any other way."
Adding to Gardini's total was Gabi Garcia Fernandez, who scored 13 kills and Andrew Lincoln, who added 11. Daenan Gyimah led the Bruins with 16 kills with Ma'a adding 15.
With the win BYU improves to 10-6 overall and 5-3 in MPSF play and will next take on No. 6 Pepperdine Saturday at the Smith Fieldhouse.