LOS ANGELES, Calif. --- Second-seeded UC Irvine swept No. 3 seed Loyola Chicago, 3-0 (26-24, 25-18, 29-27), in the first semifinal of the NCAA Championship Thursday at Pauley Pavilion.
UCI, 24-7 overall, advances to Saturday's championship match at 6:00 p.m. (ESPNU), when the Anteaters will meet top-seeded BYU.
Coach David Kniffin's Anteaters hit .500 in the win over the Ramblers (22-10), the second best offensive performance of the year. Senior All-American Kevin Tillie led UCI with a match-high 14 kills, hitting .579, and added seven digs.
Collin Mehring and Connor Hughes recorded nine kills each. Mehring hit .818 and Hughes .615 in the semifinal win. Chris Austin registered 39 set assists and tied Tillie with a match-high seven digs.
Cody Caldwell led Loyola with 12 kills and Joseph Smalzer added 11 as the Ramblers hit .263 in the match.
Loyola entered the match as the No. 1 team in the nation in kills and UCI ranked second.
With Loyola leading 20-17 in the first set, UCI would score the next four points on two Kevin Tillie kills and a pair of Rambler errors to take a 21-20 lead. Loyola had a kill for set point, 24-23, but the Anteaters answered with the final three points on kills by Collin Mehring, Scott Kevorken and Zack La Cavera to take the first set 26-24. The Anteaters hit .650 (16-3-20).
Following a 14-14 tie in the seond set, a Kevorken kill capped a 5-1 run to give UCI an 18-15 advantage. The Anteaters would go on to win 25-18.
Two kills by Mehring, plus one by La Cavera and an ace by Tillie put the Anteaters ahead 9-4 in the third set. UCI continued to have the set under control and had match point 24-21 on a Mehring kill before the Ramblers rallied with the next three points to knot the score at 24-24. The teams would trade points until a block by Kevorken and Chris Austin was followed by a kill by Connor Hughes to end the match 29-27.
UCI will be making its fourth appearance in an NCAA title match and the Anteaters have been victorious in the previous three (2007, 2009 and last year).