As shown in the following graph, the Gauchos' individual hitting percentages varied between the MPSF final and NCAA semifinal. It was as if the Trojans made a concerted -- and successful -- effort to stop Jeff Menzel, but the increased attention on him left openings for other UCSB hitters.
As Trojan Coach Bill Ferguson said in his post-match press conference [bracketed annotations by me]:
When you look at our match last week with them, Jeff Menzel killed us, Scott Slaughter killed us, and [tonight] we did an unbelievable job I thought, keeping Menzel hitting .071. We kept Slaughter under .300. We kept him at .250, which I thought was pretty unreal. We did a real good job there. [Tonight] Cullen Irons killed us and Dylan Davis was nothing short of amazing... Last time we played them, everyone on their team that was on the floor hit over three hundred. This time it was .071 for Menzel and .250 for Slaughter. That was great, but Irons and Davis definitely made up for it. [Trey]Valbuena had big numbers but I don’t know if that was necessarily our downfall.
By many accounts, the main reason why Santa Barbara was able to hang in there early and pull away late was USC's 20 service errors. Said Ferguson, "If you look at the stat lines throughout the night, we were outhitting them until, I believe, the fourth set. We were out-blocking them. But every time we got some momentum, we went back to the [service] line and missed. That gutted us." (Annotation in original transcript.)
Having admitted my erroneous prediction about the Gauchos not being able to match their hitting percentage from the MPSF final, let me mention another claim where I feel I was right. I was in a very small minority among the voting panel for the Off the Block Blocker of the Year award in giving strong consideration to USC's Steven Shandrick, ultimately recommending him for second place. I feel vindicated by the fact that Shandrick recorded a match-high eight blocks in the Final Four match against UCSB.
The Trojans' aptly named Murphy Troy was close behind with seven blocks, part of USC's plan to counteract the top Gaucho hitters (see the press conference question to Ferguson, "Coach can you talk about how you were able to contain Slaughter and Menzel?").
Oh yeah, one other match was played Thursday night, to determine the other finalist in Saturday night's title match. Ohio State beat Penn State on the Nittany Lions' home court. I would make UCSB a heavy favorite to take the title, but given how unpredictable things have been lately, who knows?