PROVO — BYU put on another clinic at the net, this time dispatching UC Santa Barbara in straight sets (25-19, 25-22, 25-20) Thursday night to advance to the MPSF finals.
In last Saturday's quarterfinal win against USC, it was all about the team’s effectiveness in killing the ball to the tune of a .519 hitting percentage. Against the Gauchos, it was all about the team block.
To have 17.5 team blocks to just three for the Gauchos is an overwhelming advantage and had BYU coach Chris McGown struggling to remember a time his team blocked better.
“I can’t remember a time,” McGown said, “17.5 blocks is way, way higher than our average is and especially in three sets. That’s a really, really high number.”
BYU’s block party was led by sophomore Michael Hatch, who scored a career high 13 blocks, including three straight during a critical juncture in the third set.
With the set tied at 11-11, Hatch assisted on three straight blocks to give his team a 14-11 lead and set the home Smith Fieldhouse crowd off into a frenzy.
"When we have big stretches like that it just gets the crowd going," Hatch said. "There's so much energy and we get so pumped that it just leads to more points. When we get two or three (blocks) in a row we're unstoppable."
It's one thing for your own team to feel unstoppable, but quite another for the opposition.
"To have (blocks) happen in succession not only gets us fired up, but I think it's a little demoralizing for the opponents," McGown said. "For them it's like, 'geez, we cannot hit a ball that they can't block,' so it gets into the psyche a bit."
Santa Barbara wouldn't lay down, however, and did manage to tie it at 17-17 before BYU closed things out with an 8-3 run to take the third set 25-20 and end the match.
Freshman Tim Dobbert ended it with a kill that glanced off the Gaucho block out of bounds for the final point. Overall, Dobbert played effectively with 10 kills and eight blocks.
Once again the Cougars were led by senior Taylor Sander and his game-high 15 kills. The All-American connected on .500 of his kill attempts using his overwhelming power combined with some well-placed finesse to confound the Gauchos.
"He's got a variety of shots," McGown said. "So that's what makes him an effective hitter. Obviously he has a great arm and can hit the ball with a lot of velocity at the same time that gets people dug in expected this fast ball and then he throws them something off speed."
With the win, BYU advances to the MPSF finals where it will take on Stanford Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cardinal cruised over Pepperdine in straight sets (25-16, 25-19, 25-16) to advance.
"They looked really, really impressive tonight," McGown observed of Stanford. "They're an all-around great team."