Defending NCAA champion UCLA regrouped after dropping the first set against George Mason and swept the last three sets to defeat the Patriots, 10-15, 15-12, 15-11, 15-6, last night before a capacity crowd of 3,000 in the Physical Education Building in Fairfax.
The win improved the Bruins' record to 16-1. The Patriots dropped to 8-3.
The second-ranked Bruins, whose only loss this season came against California-Santa Barbara Wednesday night, began the first match well and led, 5-4. The Patriots, led by all-America outside hitter Uvaldo Acosta, went on a 6-1 run to up their lead to 10-6. Later, Patriots spiker Kris Grunwald hit a cross-court kill to end the first set, 15-10.
The Bruins, who have won 12 national championships since 1970, didn't fold. They quickly gained a 5-0 lead in the second game and increased it to 11-3 before holding off the Patriots to win, 15-12.
"I went with sophomore Mike Garcia at the beginning but I eventually had to go to Mark Tedsen because we weren't scoring much," said Al Scates, who has been the Bruins coach since 1963. "Him being in the game turned us around. We had not been able to do much until we got him in the game and changed our blocking assignments."
The Bruins then began to utilize their size advantage along the front lines to wear down the Patriots. Trevor Schirman became a force inside and consistently blocked numerous Patriots spikes. The 6-foot-6 sophomore eventually became the game's key player.
"Schirman was dominant inside, especially in the last three games," said Scates. "When he got hot it was tough to stop us."
The Patriots found themselves working from behind in the last two sets of the match. Trailing, 4-0, in the third game, George Mason could not get any closer than four points.
"We were able to control the tempo of the game at the beginning," said George Mason Coach Wayne Stalick. "There was no question, though, that Schirman was the key and it was difficult to adjust to hitting past him."
The Patriots once again trailed early in the fourth game as the Bruins employed two players to shadow Acosta, who had been the Patriots' main scorer all evening. Trailing by 4-1 with UCLA serving, Schirman blocked an attempted Acosta spike to put the Bruins up, 5-1.
"They put two blockers on him and stopped him from scoring," said Stalick. "Even though he still had some points later in the match, they pretty much shut us down by trying to shut him down."