UCLA defeats Stanford 12-11 in final seconds of NCAA semifinal

The No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo team stunned No. 2 Stanford 12-11 on a last-second goal in the NCAA Tournament semifinals Saturday in College Park, Md. The Bruins will face the top-seeded USC Women of Troy today at 4 p.m. for the NCAA Championship, a rematch of last year’s final in which the Bruins won.

With 5.53 seconds left, the score tied 11-11 and UCLA holding a 6-on-5 advantage, a series of quick passes around the Cardinal defense found sophomore defender Megan Burmeister alone in front of the net. Burmeister rapidly put the ball past Stanford goalie Amber Oland just as time expired, sending UCLA players in the pool and on the bench into hysteria.

With the victory, the Bruins (24-6) avenged their three regular season losses to the Cardinal (25-4), the last two of which were also by one goal.

UCLA began the match by controlling the tempo defensively, allowing only one Stanford goal in the first quarter. UCLA ended the first half up 5-3.

However, the Bruins quickly lost their momentum, giving up four goals in the third quarter and finding themselves up only 8-7 heading into the fourth and final period. After a trio of Stanford goals put the Cardinal up 10-8, UCLA stormed back to tie it up 10-10 on a penalty shot by senior attacker Tanya Gandy and a nifty goal by sophomore defender Kelly Easterday.

UCLA senior attacker Anne Belden then threw in an outside shot to make it 11-10 before Stanford answered by scoring on a penalty shot with 28 seconds left. That left it up to Burmeister’s late dramatics to keep alive the team’s hope of sending departing coach Adam Krikorian out with a fifth-straight NCAA title.

Gandy netted four goals, Belden added a hat trick, Burmeister had a pair, and senior attacker Katie Rulon and sophomore center Katie Estrada scored one apiece in the game. Senior goalie Brittany Fullen consistently rebuffed Cardinal shots on goal, registering six saves and stymieing a number of Stanford’s 6-on-5 advantages.

The Bruins will now face their crosstown rivals, the Trojans, in the championship match. Other than Stanford and Hawai’i, USC was the only team to beat UCLA in the regular season. The Women of Troy came out on top by just one goal in two matches.

Compiled by Ian Kelly, Bruin Sports contributor.

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