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C-USA volleyball race comes down to finales

If the USF volleyball team wins its final two regular-season matches this weekend, it will enter the Conference USA tournament as the top seed. And if it does, it might want to look back at Sunday's win over Tulane as the springboard.

Sure, the Bulls (22-4, 13-1) are among the league's top teams and were all but guaranteed a high seed based on their outstanding regular season. But Sunday, playing against a solid, but inferior, Green Wave team, the Bulls were sluggish.

USF fell behind two games to none for the first time this season. However, it quickly came back to win three in a row, win the match and set a tone for how they need to play when the post-season begins.

Now the Bulls must face a different challenge, going up against Louisville and co-conference leader Cincinnati on the last weekend of the regular season.

The Bearcats and Bulls have 13-1 league marks heading into what should be a huge weekend for the top four teams. Throw in Louisville, and each team has a big weekend of matches, with each facing one of the other.

Cincinnati (21-6 overall) plays at Houston today and USF on Sunday. The Cougars (19-6 overall and 11-3 in C-USA) play Louisville as well as Cincinnati, and Louisville (20-6 overall and 11-3) travels to USF and Houston.

The Bearcats have some factors on their side. They bring their unbeaten road record in league play (6-0) and hopes of an outright title. The Bearcats shared the title in 1999 with Louisville and Houston.

With a weekend sweep, Cincinnati would claim its first conference title and become just the second team in league history to go through the league season with a 15-1 record. No conference team has gone unbeaten.

Louisville, meanwhile, comes into the Corral for tonight's 7 p.m. match with 13 consecutive wins and the No. 1 ranking in the Midwest Region poll, one spot ahead of USF.

The Cardinals also come into the match remembering last year's three-game sweep of the Bulls. Houston, with the furthest shot of the four at grabbing the top seed, has won three of its last four but lost back-to-back matches with Cincinnati and Louisville to close last season.

USF might have the advantage among the four teams.

The Bulls are riding a 15-match win streak. Throw in the fact that since 1997, no conference team has won at both Houston and USF in the same season (what Cincinnati must do) and the Bulls' chances look even better.

"It'll be a great weekend," Mueller said. "The Corral is a hard place for teams to come in and play. We feel very confident, and it's definitely an asset playing these matches at home."