When the UCLA men’s water polo team received its 2011 schedule, it saw that the entire season might come down to this final weekend against USC.
And so it has.
The Bruins and Trojans face off tonight at the Spieker Aquatics Center in front of what promises to be a boisterous Bruin crowd.
“It puts it all over the top. We knew coming into the season that it would come down to this game,” redshirt sophomore utility Chris Wendt said.
“We’ve all been preparing for it all year.”
Despite the fact that both teams are tied atop NCAA rankings, coach Adam Wright remains adamant that no game is more important than the next.
Still, it is hard to ignore that in terms of its effect on the Bruins’ postseason standing, this game could be the most vital of the year.
If USC wins tonight, it will be untouchable in the standings, an automatic No. 1 seed at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, as every other team has at least one loss.
The Trojans are undefeated in MPSF play at 7-0 and are currently riding a 10-game win streak.
If UCLA pulls out a victory, it has a chance to tie the Trojans atop the MPSF standings and would also have the advantage in a tiebreaker between the two teams.
But before the Bruins can begin to think about potentially emerging as conference champions, they still need to beat Santa Barbara, who they face Saturday at noon.
After tonight’s tough match, pulling out a victory against Santa Barbara could be a challenge.
“Santa Barbara’s been able to hang with some really good teams this year,” Wendt said.
“It’ll be hard to not let down after ‘SC.”
The final conference standings determine seeding for the MPSF Tournament, and the winner of each of the three major conference tournaments, along with one at-large bid, make it to the NCAA Tournament.
The postseason is coming quickly ““ this weekend, the last games are played, and next weekend is the conference tournament, with the NCAA Tournament after that.
For the Bruins, though, this is not a problem since their determination is to only look forward to the next game.
“The biggest thing with looking one game at a time is the mental part. … There’s times we’ve gotten too far ahead of ourselves, and it’s gotten us in trouble,” Wright said.
“Right now, it’s ‘SC for us.”
UCLA will rely on leadership from veteran players to stay in the game, especially its captain, redshirt senior attacker Cullen Hennessy.
“I’m just trying to make sure we’re nails on defense and aware and focused,” Hennessy said. “But this team is very mature when it comes to big games.”
Wendt confirmed that the team would be up for the challenge against the Trojans.
“We know that ‘SC is going to be good, and we’re basically tied for No. 1,” he said.
“This is it.”