Thursday, May 23

UCLA Women’s water polo to battle ‘SC

The No. 4 Bruins travel across town in hopes of snapping the top-ranked Trojans' 16-game win streak

A regular season that has seen UCLA women’s water polo encounter its fair share of triumphs and stumbles comes to an end Saturday at USC. Needless to say, if the team wants to make it back to the NCAA Tournament in five weeks’ time, it cannot afford to stumble again.

If their last meeting is any indication, the No. 4 Bruins (17-6, 4-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will certainly have their hands full with the No. 1 Trojans (18-1, 4-0) at the USC’s McDonald’s Swim Stadium. At the Stanford Invitational on Feb. 7, USC jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the second quarter before coasting to a 13-3 victory.

On paper, the matchup looks even more daunting considering that this USC team has won 16 straight games dating back to Feb. 6 and has not lost at home in 17 games.

UCLA coach Brandon Brooks pointed to USC’s experienced players, namely senior Kami Craig and sophomore Joelle Bekhazi ““American and Canadian National Team members, respectively ““ as a key reason for the Trojan’s success.

“They have a lot of experience,” Brooks said. “I think they’re fundamentally sound. They have a simple game and they’ve been executing very well lately.”

“All their players are talented and they know what to do,” UCLA junior attacker Priscilla Orozco added. “I think it’s going to be more one-on-one battles, because they know they’re strong, physical and pretty smart with the ball.”

The Bruins come into the game fresh off a successful two-game road trip that resulted in victories over No. 7 Loyola Marymount and No. 14 San Diego State, two crucial wins for a team looking to pick up some momentum before hosting the MPSF conference tournament in two weeks. The win over SDSU pushed the Bruins into a tie for third place with Cal in the MPSF standings.

There still lies the possibility that this year’s team might not crack the eight-team NCAA tournament field, something UCLA teams of the past have not come close to doing, and something that Brooks admits is “a real concern.” The team has been able to pull off tough wins, such as its 7-6 win over Cal in an eight-overtime thriller. But UCLA has slipped up against some of its easier foes, such as Hawai’i, which beat the Bruins 9-8 in six overtimes.

“Losing to Hawai’i was not ideal,” Brooks said. “We’re not a lock in NCAAs right now. We’ve got to keep progressing, we’ve got to keep getting better, we’ve got to keep fighting.”

“We’re really focused on our first game (in the MPSF Tournament) in order to make it to NCAAs,” Orozco said.

“If we just take care of things in the pool everything else will be fine.”

As for this weekend at ‘SC, Brooks said he knows this team is peaking and just needs to put it all together in order to be successful.

“We’ve shown flashes of brilliance,” he said. “It would be nice if we were just brilliant.”

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