Princeton, NJ “โ€œ It took six minutes longer than they would have preferred, but the UCLA men’s water polo team came away with a 9-8, double overtime win over Loyola Marymount today to advance to Sunday’s championship match against USC.

UCLA center Cole Consani scored the game-winning goal with 37 seconds left in the second three-minute overtime period, after the two teams went scoreless in the first extra session. The redshirt senior got the ball at two meters during a 6-on-5, and buried a shot past Loyola Marymount goalkeeper Andy Stevens.

The Lions came out as the aggressor, building a 4-2 lead late in the second quarter behind a trifecta of goals from junior driver Tibor Forai. At that point, UCLA turned to its captain to bail them out.

Redshirt senior Scott Davidson scored the game’s next four goals, two to close out the first half at a 4-4 tie, and two more to give the Bruins a lead early in the third quarter. Davidson, fresh off being named MPSF Player of the Year, finished with a game-high five goals.

“In the first half, we didn’t play our game, we played tentative,” he said. “I came out to play (in the second half) like the team should play, and we were able to change things up.”

It seemed UCLA would be able to cruise to victory when they secured an 8-6 advantage with 6:47 to go, but Stevens made a number of athletic saves down the stretch to allow Loyola Marymount to claw back into it. In a game that featured a number of close calls and near-goals, the Lions felt like they were that close to pulling off the upset.

“I think the only reason we lost is because luck was on their side,” Forai said. “A few ball bounces that were just inches away from going in, and we could have beat them in regulation.”

While UCLA coach Adam Wright watched USC roll 13-3 over Princeton in the first semifinal, he felt that his team could only benefit from having to play such an intense match before the championship bout.

“Today was a little bit closer than I liked, but I think it will be good for tomorrow,” Wright said. “It puts you in a pressure situation where you have to respond, where you know what’s at stake.”

Wright acknowledged that tonight was far from the Bruins’ best effort, although they stuck to their calling card when they needed it most.

“I thought we played tight, it wasn’t ourselves,” he said. “I’ve said all year our backbone was our 5-man defense, and they went 1-for-9 tonight. They had their chances, and we made the saves.”

“We know that if we hold teams to low percentages there, we’re always going to have a shot “โ€œ no matter how we play.”