PROVO — Just two days after a close, well-played win in five sets over No. 15 UC Santa Barbara, top-ranked BYU dispatched the No. 6 Bruins of UCLA in straight sets (25-22, 25-15, 25-23) Saturday night to extend their current winning streak to three games.
The return of BYU high-energy senior Russ Lavaja from a slight ankle injury ignited his teammates and helped the Cougars improve their overall record to 8-2 on the season.
“He (Lavaja) does a lot of nice things for us offensively,” BYU coach Chris McGown said. “The biggest factor for us is his emotional energy. He’s just this wild card on our team that the guys just love playing with him. He just has fun out there. He gets excited and it's infectious. You can’t help but go out and play great when you’re playing with him.
“It’s a little bit of a different group with Rusty out there. He injects a lot of energy that we really needed and I thought we played every point with focus with this nice emotional component.”
Combining emotion and discipline has been an ongoing journey for the Cougars this season. According to McGown, things are starting to come together.
“We’re learning to limit our mistakes,” BYU's head coach said. “We served the ball in the court at a really nice percentage. We actually attacked the ball into the court at a nice percentage, so we just didn’t make mistakes that hurt us. So that’s a sign I think of a team that’s maturing a little bit and starting to understand this is how we want to play.
"We can play really good volleyball if we can make other teams try and beat us and we don’t beat ourselves with mistakes and errors.”
BYU matched the Bruins' aggressive play early on and found a way to take advantage in key spots to turn UCLA’s attack on its head, showing the Cougars were not going to give the match away.
“That’s an aggressive serving team (UCLA),” McGown said. “They are willing to give up some misses to get some aces so it’s inevitable that they are going to serve some balls that are in the margins. Early we passed on a lot of balls that were going out of bounds and in the third we didn’t pass some that starting going in, so it’s just tough.
"As that set went on I think we calibrated well, kind of figured out a few things. We gave up some points early but ended up coming on strong.”
BYU will travel to Southern California to take on Pepperdine and USC next weekend, setting up a conference showdown with Pacific in the Smith Fieldhouse on Feb. 22.