The men’s water polo team makes its way north this weekend with a chance to write its name into the history books – again.
The squad can tie the 1985-1987 Stanford Cardinal’s NCAA-record 51-match winning streak against No. 4 Pacific (12-3) on Saturday and can set a new mark against No. 11 UC Davis (12-3) the following day.
The Tigers gave the back-to-back champions a scare two weekends ago when they entered the halftime break up 4-3 in the semifinal of the Mountain Pacific Invitational.
“They play a lot of zone defense, which cuts down on the number of 6-on-5 (power play) opportunities you get,” coach Adam Wright said.
The scoring output in that game is tied for UCLA’s poorest first-half offensive performance so far this season. But, it was a tale of two halves against Pacific – the Bruins’ offensive attack broke through with five scores in the third period.
“The first half we weren’t really attacking the goal with the right approach or mentality,” Wright said. “But then (in) the second half we were stepping into the free water and attacking aggressively, which opened up our center and our outside guys.”
Two of the outside guys are true freshmen attackers James Vlachonassios and Jake Simpson. Neither of them played in the team’s first game against Pacific, but Vlachonassios noticed some of the trends that have troubled the team thus far – notably, how the ball has not been moving as crisply in recent matches.
“We definitely need (to work on) our center-entry passes and working a lot more in the zone,” Vlachonassios said.
The team hopes a more fluid offensive game plan will lead to better results against Pacific’s zone defense.
“(We need) more movement to open up shooting angles. If we just sit and play stagnant, we’re not making the defense change the way they play,” Wright said.
The movement will help to open up more windows on offense, but the bedrock of the squad continues to be its defense, which keeps the team in games even on UCLA’s worst offensive days.
“We have to stick to our (defensive) system,” Simpson said. “It doesn’t matter how much we score as long as we hold them.”