Matt Hanley believed.
Even when it seemed UCLA was on its way to sure victory on Saturday, the UCSB senior refused to lose, refused to let his college career come to an end.
“(Matt) was in the timeout huddle screaming at guys, saying ‘we are winning this. I don’t care what the score is, we are going to win this,’ ” said UCSB head coach Rick McLaughlin. “That guy wanted it as bad as any player I’ve ever seen want it, and he came through big time.”
Hanley’s never-die attitude carried the Gauchos to a come-from-behind 23-25, 25-20, 18-25, 25-20, 15-12 triumph over UCLA in an MPSF Tournament match.
The Gauchos trailed 14-7 in the fourth set but found a way to win. Hanley, who transferred to UCSB from UCLA, was the emotional leader and willed the Gauchos to victory.
“That 4th game, that was all heart. That was a group of six guys that just willed to win,” Hanley said. “I can’t tell how proud I am for each and every guy on this team. There’s no way that we could have done it without every single guy on the team. It’s unbelievable right now, I’m shaking. It was unreal.”
Hanley led the Gauchos in scoring and finished with 16 kills and eight digs.
Down 14-7 in the 4th set, UCSB flipped a switch and outscored the Bruins 18-6. Setter Jonah Seif was a factor in the rally, getting the large crowd in Rob Gym back into the match with a pair of blocks.
“Matt Hanley went back, and he wanted this match, and he served some tough balls at 14-7 and got us back in it. And Jonah (Seif) made a few big block moves, and before you know it, we were tied with them,” McLaughlin recalled.
UCLA head coach John Speraw was as surprised as anybody at the sudden swing in fortune.
“I thought when we were up in the fourth set, they actually looked a little tired, they looked a little gassed,” Speraw said. “I thought we had a little advantage there, but they ended up making plays. I don’t feel like we let it go, I feel like Santa Barbara just made some plays and they played better than us down the stretch.”
UCSB caught the Bruins at 17-17 and never trailed again in that 4th game.
After losing the 4th game, UCLA regrouped and led again in the fifth set. The Bruins led 8-7 when the two teams switched sides. The Gauchos then scored five straight to take a 12-8 lead on their way to victory.
UCSB fed off its biggest crowd of the season, which included a sizeable UCLA cheering section. It was UCSB’s first home playoff match since 2007.
“That’s what Santa Barbara earned by playing so well throughout the course of the year, that home-court advantage that maybe gives you that little lift at the end,” Speraw said.
UCLA was led by Gonzalo Quiroga’s double-double of 18 kills and 13 digs. Steve O’Dell handed out 44 assists, providing Quiroga, Robart Page and Spencer Rowe with double-digit kill totals.
The Bruins – winners of 19 national championships – finish their season with a record of 18-11.
Evan Licht’s 17 kills was tops for UCSB. Licht, Hanley and Weston Nielsen accounted for 47 of UCSB’s 61 kills.
The Gauchos season continues next week in Utah, with UCSB (18-8) traveling to BYU for the conference semifinals on Thursday.