For the fourth time this year, the UCLA and USC women’s water polo teams battled to the bitter end in the pool. But in their final and most important matchup on Saturday, it was the Bruins who emerged from the pool without a victory.
The No. 2 Bruins went back and forth with the women of Troy for much of the first half but found themselves trailing late because of the sharp shooting of USC and fell in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships, 12-10.
UCLA (23-4) found itself struggling to build momentum on offense in the second half, allowing USC to go on a 3-0 run starting in the last two minutes of the third quarter.
The Trojans (23-6) scored once more with 4:53 remaining in the match to bring their lead to 12-8. The Bruins countered with two goals down the stretch but simply ran out of time after failing to force a steal in the final seconds.
“Any time you put your heart and your soul into a team and a season and you lose like this it hurts really bad,” coach Brandon Brooks said.
“I’m very proud of the way this team competed. My hat goes off to ‘SC. They made some really nice shots.”
This game marks the highest-scoring matchup between the two teams this season. Senior attacker Sarah Orozco and junior utility Emily Greenwood had three goals apiece but could not match the unrelenting pressure of freshman driver Monica Vavic and junior two-meter Patricia Jancso, each of whom had four goals for the Trojans.
USC reined in several key shots from beyond five-meter, showcasing a much more explosive offense than in past games.
“It’s really hard not to consider the history between the teams,” senior utility KK Clark said.
“We’ve seen them quite a few times this year, but it’s no excuse. We know their players really well.”
UCLA’s players were visibly upset following the hard-fought game, but were quick to compliment the Trojans on their strong offensive performance.
“They had a lot of really nice bar-ins,” senior goalkeeper Caitlin Dement said.
In Sunday’s third place game, the Bruins warded off a UC Irvine power play attempt in the game’s final minute to escape with their second consecutive consolation title, 10-9. This, however, is not the crown UCLA has been fighting for all season.
Saturday afternoon’s battle against USC was the first in four matchups in which the Bruins failed to find a hero in the fourth quarter. It will also be the only one they have in the back of their minds until January.
“Ultimately we got beat. I don’t think we beat ourselves,” Brooks said.
“This time of year you want to go out and compete for the whole game. I think we were there neck and neck and they beat us.”