As the second quarter of the UCLA men’s water polo team’s Saturday afternoon game drew to a close, the Bruins found themselves facing an expiring shot clock.
Pinned beyond 7 meters away from the goal after his team drew a foul, sophomore attacker Daniel Lenhart quickly dumped the ball inside to junior utility Aimone Barabino, who was immediately smothered by two Long Beach State defenders.
With two seconds remaining to shoot, Barabino quickly gathered himself, faced away from Long Beach sophomore goalie Balint Meszaros and scorched a backhanded goal into the net to give UCLA an 7-2 lead.
Even while having to cope with the sheer size of 49ers junior center Dan Matulis, who stands 6 feet 11 inches tall, everything seemed to work out for the No. 2 Bruins (22-2, 4-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), who were able to get a few defensive stops and ride their offensive motor to a 13-8 victory over No. 7 Long Beach State (19-7, 1-4).
“I thought we got off to an excellent start defensively,” said coach Adam Wright. “I think we gave up a couple six-on-five goals because in our transition defense we kind of got lost, but defensively, that’s the way we have to start off.”
UCLA struggled a bit defensively, though, as the game moved forward, surrendering six second-half goals.
Still, the team said its ability to contest shots and create difficult shooting angles was much improved from previous games.
“We’ve been working a lot on our transition defense and it showed in this game,” said senior goalkeeper Matt Rapacz, who had 10 saves, including a penalty stop, against Long Beach.
“The shots that they took were the shots that we wanted them to take.”
UCLA surfaced with a dominating win over unranked Concordia (11-8) in game two , 21-7, but this time the focus was on former UCLA men’s water polo coach Bob Horn, who was honored at halftime with around 100 of his former players on hand to watch.
UCLA team captain and senior utility Josh Samuels presented Horn, who won three NCAA titles in 28 seasons with the Bruins, with a commemorative UCLA letterman’s jacket while the UCLA Hall of Famer’s bio was being read aloud.
“Adam told me (Friday) that at halftime I was going to give (coach Horn) a jacket, and I thought that was really cool,” Samuels said. “He was really moved by it and he shared some nice words with me during the ceremony.”
The pair of wins Saturday, sprinkled with a little UCLA and water polo history, will likely give the Bruins some momentum as they head into what they called the most important game of the season against No. 3 Stanford on Friday.