LOS ANGELES -- After last year's epic NCAA final between UCLA and second-ranked Virginia -- a match the Cavaliers won 4-3 -- Thursday's regular-season showdown between the two teams promised to be one of the marquee matchups of the 2014 college season. The two teams didn't disappoint, with the third-ranked Bruins edging the second-ranked Cavaliers 4-3 at UCLA's Los Angeles Tennis Center. And although Thursday's meeting didn't have nearly as much on the line or produce the dramatic ending of last year's final, it was a sweet victory for the Bruins, who no doubt had that 2013 loss still fresh in their minds.
"I thought the competitiveness was fantastic," UCLA head coach Billy Martin said. "Everybody fought their hearts out. Even the guys that lost all gave 110 percent. I'm still really proud of them."
UCLA (10-1) entered Thursday having dropped the doubles point in all four matches against top-10 opponents this season. As a result, Martin opted to change up the doubles lineup and the move paid off. After both teams traded wins at court Nos. 1 and 2, the point came down to the No. 3 spot, where Bruin freshmen Gage Brymer and Mackenzie McDonald were playing only their second match of the year together. The Bruin tandem came through in the clutch, notching an 8-5 victory against Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Mac Styslinger to give UCLA a 1-0 lead heading into singles play.
"Our two captains, Marcos [Giron] and Adrien [Puget], really felt that we needed to change doubles up a bit," Martin said. "They pulled me aside on Tuesday and expressed that we needed to do something different. I can't say I was totally for it, but I was willing to listen. I guess now I can say that I'm grateful that I was open minded enough to listen to them."
Having that 1-0 cushion heading into singles action was an added bonus for the Bruins, who have been lights out in singles play this year. In fact, Virginia is only the second team this year to win three singles matches against UCLA.
Riding the momentum from his thrilling doubles victory, the 35th-ranked McDonald would give UCLA a 2-0 lead when he dispatched of Ryan Shane 7-5, 6-4 at court No. 3. It would mark the only straight-set victory for either team on the afternoon.
Virginia (9-2) was next to strike, as Kwiatkowski regrouped after losing the first set to 98th-ranked Karue Sell at court No. 5, charging back for a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2 win.
At the time of Kwiatkowski's victory, all four remaining matches were in third sets and extremely close. Senior Clay Thompson would eventually win the battle of top-five opponents at court No. 1, as the nation's top-ranked singles player downed fourth-ranked Mitchell Frank 7-6(1), 3-6, 7-5 to give UCLA a 3-1 lead in the match. The two players remained on serve for the entire third set until Thompson broke in the 12th game as Frank was serving to send the set to a tiebreaker.
Thompson's win set the plate for Giron to get the clinching win at court No. 2, as the fifth-ranked junior clawed out a pair of tiebreakers to overcome 92nd-ranked Alex Domijan 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4) to give UCLA an insurmountable 4-1 lead. It ended up being a huge win for the Bruins, as Giron fought off a match point with Domijan serving up 6-5 in the second-set tiebreaker.
With the match already decided, Virginia took wins at court Nos. 4 and 6 to make the final score 4-3.
The win marks UCLA's seventh this season against teams ranked in the top 15 nationally. It was also UCLA's second win in a row against the nation's No. 2 team, as the Bruins also beat then-No. 2 USC 5-2 on Feb. 25.