Long rest, no rust for the BYU men’s volleyball team.
The Cougars, due to a bye week in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, took the floor Friday night at the Smith Fieldhouse having not played since Feb. 15.
But BYU had no trouble getting back into competition mode, as the No. 2 Cougars swept No. 7 Southern California 25-22, 25-16, 25-21 in front of 4,022 rowdy fans at the Smith Fieldhouse.
“I thought we’d play well,” said BYU coach Chris McGown when asked about the long layoff. “The boys have had great energy in practice, they’ve really gotten after it. So I was curious to see how they’d play, but I thought they’d play well.”
Sophomore outside hitter Matt Underwood had a career night, with 15 kills (hitting .542), three digs and a block assist. McGown and Underwood both noted that the fact that the Cougars have been rotating several players through that position was probably a factor.
“I haven’t played much lately, so they probably thought they’d concentrate on Taylor (Sander) and Josue (Rivera). That was fine with me,” said Underwood with a big grin. “Our game plan was to attack the middle of the court, and if their blockers were going to leave me open, I was ready to do that. It was pretty awesome, the most fun I’ve had in a while.”
Sander, despite all that defensive attention aimed at him, had another spectacular night, with 15 kills (hitting .310), four service aces, seven digs and three block assists. The Cougars outblocked USC 9.5 to 2.5, and hit .308 to the Trojans’ .217. They also had six service aces to none for the visitors, whole the Trojans had eight service errors to seven for BYU, something that McGown said was a key to the match.
“I thought our serve and serve/receive was the best part of our game,” McGown said. “(USC) came in with a little bit of a different strategy tonight from before (the first meeting in L.A. which with BYU winning in five sets). They were just trying to put it in on us and try to make us play.
“They held their service errors way down, but we went after them on our serves, and we did a good job at the same thing (holding down errors). I thought our serving kept them out of system all night.”
The Cougar serve was key all night, helping BYU keep the Trojans on their heels. That was needed, as USC came out hot and took a 14-11 lead midway through the first set. But a kill by Sander, followed by a Sander ace and a hitting error by USC tied the game at 14. The Cougars used some good serving and and Underwood kill to take a 19-17 lead, From there, a couple of hitting errors from USC eventually gave BYU the set.
“This is a team that never thinks they’re out of it,” McGown said. “Whatever hole we’re in, we think we can dig out of it. It started last year, and it’s built this year. These guys just don’t get down. They go hard on every play.”
The second set was close through the early going, but after a 12-12 tie, BYU (10-3 overall, 10-1 MPSF) took over behind some great serving and another ace from Sander. With Underwood at the service line and the score 18-15, the Cougars scored six straight points, getting kills from Underwood, Devin Young and Sander to go along with a couple of USC errors, to move to set point at 24-15. USC fought off one set point, but Rivera nailed the final point for the 2-0 Cougar lead.
Set 3 went back and forth through the early going, with two more Sander aces and one from Rivera getting the crowd even louder as BYU built a 14-11 lead. USC (10-5, 9-5) closed to within one a couple of times, but never got closer. With the Cougars up 22-21, setter Tyler Heap appeared to be setting Michael Hatch in the middle. As the Trojan defenders leaped to block Hatch, Sander leaped up behind Hatch and nailed a huge kill from the back row to give Cougars a 23-21 lead. A USC hitting error as the attacker tried to go over a big BYU block moved the Cougars to match point, and Rivera killed an overpass on another good BYU serve to give the home team the match.
“It was great to be home again,” Underwood said. “There’s no atmosphere like this anywhere else in college volleyball. It’s great to play at home.”
The Cougars host No. 4 Pepperdine on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Waves handed the Cougars their only conference loss on Jan. 31 in Malibu. The match will be broadcast live on BYUtv.