The defense keeps the team in games, but the offense has been what’s making them games in the first place.
The No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo team is in the middle of its third straight title run, has won 54 straight matches and took down No. 2 California 7-6 this past weekend.
Though the team is averaging nearly 12.5 points a game on the season, that’s down nearly two full points from the average production through 21 games last year.
In Berkeley, the team struggled at times against the Bears’ defense – Cal pressed UCLA and had stout play within the 5-meter line, and as a result, UCLA only scored one goal in both the first and third periods.
“Cal runs a very hectic defense, they’re always jumping into (passing) lanes,” said senior attacker Patrick Fellner. “It’s on us to control the ball, make some better passes.”
Cal’s disruptive defensive scheme paid dividends while it was down a man, as it held UCLA to only one power play conversion.
“We have to work on our front-court attack, we were one for five on our six-on-five,” said coach Adam Wright. “That has got to be better.”
The seven times this season when UCLA has been held to 10 scores or less, it’s converted power play opportunities at 41 percent, on average.
Additionally, each of those seven matches in which the Bruins’ offense was stymied came against current top-10 ranked opponents. Each has a unique defensive philosophy that poses problems for UCLA in the pool, according to redshirt junior attacker Max Irving.
“Pacific runs a defense where everyone’s back, Cal does a lot of more splitting so they can go out on the counterattack,” Irving said. “Stanford and USC both like to press and run trapping defenses.”
Over the past two years, UCLA has averaged nine goals per match against the other members of the Big Four – Cal, Stanford and USC. UCLA went 17-2 against those teams over that stretch.
Though the overall average production is down through 21 games this year, the team is not pressing for increased offensive production according to Irving. He maintains that the Bruins are a defensive team first and foremost.
“We’re not trying to score 10 goals a game,” Irving said. “Just trying to hold a team to less than six goals and the offense will take care of itself.”