©Colette Lewis 2012--
The UCLA Bruins have already claimed the distinction of having kept the University of Southern Californian from a perfect season. UCLA shocked the three-time defending champions 4-3 at home last month, and although USC got revenge in the Pac-12 team tournament in Ojai two weeks later, their fourth match of the season is for a place in the NCAA final, and the history books.
The top-seeded Trojans got to the semifinal in a hurry, taking down No. 8 seed Duke 4-1 in two and a half hours. The fourth-seeded Bruins were on the court over an hour longer, subduing No. 5 Ohio State 4-2 on another dry and sunny afternoon at the Dan Magill Tennis Center.
USC took the doubles point with an 8-4 victory at 1, after Duke had won at 3 and USC at 2.
The singles started well for the Trojans, and although they surrendered their first point of the NCAA tournament, when Raphael Hemmeler beat Yannick Hanfmann at line 5, the outcome wasn't in doubt. Steve Johnson, who had clinched the doubles point at 1 with Roberto Quiroz, got his second singles clinch this week, closing out Henrique Cunha of Duke 6-4, 6-0 at the top singles court.
Senior Daniel Nguyen, who is a perfect 14-0 in NCAA singles during his career at USC, posted the Trojans' second point, taking out Torsten Wietoska 6-3, 6-1, and Emilio Gomez quickly followed with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Fred Saba at 4 to make it 3-0. By then Johnson was up 5-0 on Cunha, and a few minutes later, the match was over.
"I was just extremely happy with how we played," said USC coach Peter Smith. "I think Duke is a really good team, they've beaten us in the last two years, and they've got great coaching. So I thought our guys really rose to the occasion."
Ramsey Smith, in his fourth season as Duke's coach, agreed that Southern Cal played well.
"Full credit to Southern Cal. They're an awfully good team," Smith said. "I was very impressed with them today. I thought we played a pretty good match. [Hemmeler and Wietoska] played amazing at 3 doubles, got off the court quickly. I know we lost 8-4 at 1, but we had some chances that match and it was a little bit closer than the score. In singles, they got off to a good start on a couple courts and really took it to us. Like I said, they're a great team, and I think they'll be tough to beat this year."
While Smith and his team awaited their opponent in Monday's semifinal, Smith admitted that he thought it would be UCLA.
"It's the semis, and of course you can lose to anyone, but I think we're going to play UCLA," said Smith. "That's the way I've been looking at it. I've respected UCLA the whole year, and they've got a good team."
Going into the match, Ohio State would have been the favorite for the doubles point against UCLA, but the Bruins received a big boost when they collected it with a win over the nation's top-ranked team of Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola. After Ohio State had won at 3 and UCLA at 2, Adrien Puget and Alex Brigham earned the only break of the match at at 5-5 and, saving two break points in the final game, took an 8-6 decision over Buchanan and Rola.
Puget, a sophomore, celebrated the win by falling to the court, and after the match, he admitted the point gave his team a boost.
"It was huge. We had lost to Ole Miss on Friday and to beat the No. 1 team in the country, I think it was our best match of the year. We knew we could, because we had wins over Stanford and Cal's teams this year, but it was huge for us."
In singles, the teams each won three first sets, and it was Ohio State taking the 2-1 lead, getting wins from Connor Smith at 6, a 6-2, 6-2 decision over Dennis Mkrtchian, and Chase Buchanan at 1, a 6-3, 6-3 decision over Clay Thompson.
Freshman Dennis Novikov, who joined the Bruins less than two months ago, contributed with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Peter Kobelt at 3, and UCLA got in position to win when freshman Marcos Giron beat Devin McCarthy at 4 6-4, 6-4.
Ohio State coach Ty Tucker had removed Ille Van Engelen at No. 4, elevating Hunter Callahan to the 5 position and Connor Smith to No. 6. Smith had played in Friday's round of 16 match, but Callahan had not played in the Buckeyes' third round win over Florida. The freshman trailed Puget by 6-3, 3-0, but fought back to 4-all.
UCLA coach Billy Martin sensed he needed to get to Puget's court once he had lost his advantage.
"He looked very tired to me, and that's not normal for him," Martin said. "He's usually the leader of our team as far as energy and closing out matches goes. By the time I got up there it was 4-3 and he looked spent…I was a little worried about that, but Adrien was able to keep his composure and shorten the points a little bit."
Serving from behind in the set, Callahan endured two difficult service games, and was called on to save a match point serving at 5-6. He hit a huge first serve and put away the return with a forehand winner, so there was nothing for Puget and Martin to regret.
"Match point down the young man played an unbelievable point, a flawless point. But Adrien played a good, solid tiebreaker. Maybe his experience more than the young man's helped us in the tiebreaker."
Puget dominated the tiebreaker, with Callahan not able to step up to his level in the final few points. When Puget blasted a backhand winner on his first match point, he had earned a 6-3, 7-6(0) decision, his 22nd consecutive victory.
"I won't lie, doubles took a lot of energy," said Puget, who has lost only one dual match all season. "I needed to close it out in the second set, because there is a momentum change if you lose the second set. I would have fought to the end, but it was a great feeling."
Asked about his decision to bench Van Engelen, Tucker said, "I thought that gave us our best chance to get four points. Was it the right move? I don't know, I make more wrong moves than I do right moves; you never know. We were in it until the end, at 3:40 (pm) we were in the thick of the match, so we had our opportunities, we had some chances, but this is UCLA, you're going to get one or two points and you're going to have to capitalize."
Martin knows UCLA has a difficult task against USC in Monday's first semifinal, but can look back on their win last month for a blueprint.
"If they win the doubles point, and Stevie is almost a lock point-wise for them at 1, you're almost down 2-0 and it's can you win 4 out of 5 matches, 2 through 6. We were fortunate enough to do that that day. We just kept fighting and got ourselves in a position, and did they get tight or tentative? Probably, but in sports, on any given day, you get a little lucky and rise to the occasion, and it can happen."
#4 UCLA (26-3) def. #5 OHIO STATE (34-4), 4-2 - McWhorter Courts
Head Coaches: Billy Martin (UCLA) and Ty Tucker (OHIO STATE)
1. #44 Alex Brigham/Adrien Puget (UCLA) def. #1 Chase Buchanan/Blaz Rola (OHIO STATE), 8-6
2. #85 Nick Meister/Dennis Novikov (UCLA) def. #32 Devin McCarthy/Ille Van Engelen (OHIO STATE), 8-1
3. Peter Kobelt/Connor Smith (OHIO STATE) def. Marcos Giron/Warren Hardie (UCLA), 8-4
1. #10 Chase Buchanan (OHIO STATE) def. #62 Clay Thompson (UCLA), 6-3, 6-3
2. #16 Nick Meister (UCLA) vs. #9 Blaz Rola (OHIO STATE), 3-6, 6-3, 3-2, unfinished
3. Dennis Novikov (UCLA) def. #67 Peter Kobelt (OHIO STATE), 6-4, 6-0
4. #84 Marcos Giron (UCLA) def. #85 Devin McCarthy (OHIO STATE), 6-4, 6-4
5. #46 Adrien Puget (UCLA) def. #107 Hunter Callahan (OHIO STATE), 6-3, 7-6(0)
6. Connor Smith (OHIO STATE) def. Dennis Mkrtchian (UCLA), 6-2, 6-2
Order of Finish
#1 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (31-1) def. #8 DUKE (25-6), 4-1 - Henry Feild Stadium
Head Coaches: Peter Smith (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) and Ramsey Smith (DUKE)
1. #2 Steve Johnson/Roberto Quiroz (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #16 Henrique Cunha/Chris Mengel (DUKE), 8-4
2. #35 Daniel Nguyen/Ray Sarmiento (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. David Holland/Fred Saba (DUKE), 8-2
3. Raphael Hemmeler/Torsten Wietoska (DUKE) def. Emilio Gomez/Yannick Hanfmann (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 8-3
1. #1 Steve Johnson (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #5 Henrique Cunha (DUKE), 6-4, 6-0
2. #25 Ray Sarmiento (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) vs. #38 Chris Mengel (DUKE), 5-7, 3-0, unfinished
3. #21 Daniel Nguyen (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #113 Torsten Wietoska (DUKE), 6-3, 6-1
4. #57 Emilio Gomez (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. Fred Saba (DUKE), 6-4, 6-1
5. Raphael Hemmeler (DUKE) def. #51 Yannick Hanfmann (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-3, 6-4
6. Roberto Quiroz (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) vs. Jason Tahir (DUKE), 6-2, 4-2, unfinished
Order of Finish