Top-seeded BYU rallies to knock off fourth-seeded Penn State in semifinals
LOS ANGELES -- Behind a third-set comeback, No. 1-seeded BYU swept fourth-seed Penn State (25-21, 25-16, 25-22) Thursday at Pauley Pavilion for a spot in the NCAA championship match.
The Cougars (26-4) look to capture their fourth national title, and first since 2004, on Saturday against Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opponent and No. 2-seeded UC Irvine.
"I thought we did a lot of things really well," head coach Chris McGown said. "I was really proud of our defensive effort. We had a lot of nice touches and then we also blocked a lot of balls. We also had wonderful offensive performances with Taylor Sander and Ben Patch and they carried us offensively. Ultimately, we're really happy to have won a match in three sets against a very good Penn State team and a team for whom we have a lot of respect."
Junior Taylor Sander led BYU with a match-high 17 kills, seven digs and three blocks. Freshman Ben Patch joined Sander in double-digit kills with 12, while adding two aces and six blocks.
The Cougars out-blocked the Nittany Lions (23-8) 7.0 – 0 in the first set and 12.5 – 2.0 through the match. BYU hit .345 while Penn State recorded a .151 clip.
The Cougars took their first lead 5-4 in the opening set off a service ace from Patch and never surrendered the lead. BYU rattled off four consecutive points to pull ahead 12-8 and big back-to-back kills down the middle from Sander pushed the Cougars ahead by five.
In front 20-13 after a block from Sander and Devin Young, the Nittany Lions attempted a comeback, but a Sander kill halted the effort and gave BYU a 23-17 lead. With set point after a BYU block, Penn State fired off a 4-0 run to come within three before a service error wrapped up a 25-21 first-set victory for the Cougars.
The second set started in a deadlock with each team trading points. A solo block by Young gave BYU a 7-6 lead but the teams returned to a back-and-forth battle. An ace down the line by Patch broke the trend and put the Cougars on top 13-11.
BYU strung together a 6-0 run to pad its lead 20-13 highlighted by Phil Fuch’s serving. The Cougars closed out the set with a BYU block and kill by Josue Rivera. Sander and Patch combined for 15 kills and one error through the first two sets.
Penn State started set three with an early 6-1 lead. Rivera ended the Nittany Lion’s 5-0 run with a kill, but Penn State marched on to a 9-4 advantage. A pair of kills from Sander cut BYU’s deficit to two and a Patch kill moved the Cougars within one 15-14, but Penn State went back in front 19-15.
Three consecutive BYU points put the Cougars back within one and Patch tied the set at 20 with a kill. A Sander kill flipped the score in BYU’s favor 22-21, the first Cougar lead of the set, and an ace by Michael Hatch gave BYU a two-point advantage. Sander rattled off his ninth kill of the set, setting BYU up with match-point. A long rally ended in BYU’s favor to earn the Cougars a spot in the championship match.
"We kind of struggled in the third set but we were able to battle through," Sander said. "I think that's what our team has been doing all season, just hanging in there through tough sets and playing hard volleyball. That was a really good Penn State team and it's going to be fun being able to play UCI on Saturday for the national championship."