Maddie Musselman didn’t miss until halfway through the third quarter.
The freshman attacker had guarded the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s top scorer – Stephania Haralabidis – on defense, driven through an aggressive Trojan blockade on many of UCLA’s offensive possessions, battled to transition from one end to the other for more than 20 minutes of game time and she was still a perfect 4 for 4 before hitting the post on a Bruin power play.
She would finish the game with a game-high five goals, helping No. 1 UCLA (20-1, 6-0 MPSF) win 11-7 and match its largest margin of victory over No. 2 USC (26-2, 4-2) in coach Brandon Brooks’ career at the helm.
“The importance of fulfilling roles is so important to our team,” Musselman said. “My role is to be aggressive, and I executed when I needed to, and I also got great passes from my teammates that allowed me to be so efficient.”
Just 10 seconds into the match, Musselman gave the Bruins a 1-0 advantage, and UCLA, like it did against then-No. 1 Stanford last week, would never trail.
The Trojans tied up the game three minutes later, and again later on in the quarter after redshirt senior attacker Kodi Hill put the Bruins back on top, but Musselman’s second goal of the game with 2:10 left in the first broke what would be the final equalizer.
UCLA held USC scoreless in the second and tacked on three goals – two more from Musselman, and one on a counter from senior attacker Kelsey O’Brien after redshirt senior attacker Rachel Fattal stole an errant pass at the top of the USC offense.
By halftime, the Bruins were up 6-2. The defense held the Trojans to two conversions on three first-half one-man powerplays, not counting a six-on-four USC advantage at the end of the first quarter, which the team also stuffed.
More man-up opportunities would come for the Trojans in the second half, but they were unable to take advantage, finishing two for eight on UCLA’s exclusions.
“We worked on our five on six all week,” said redshirt senior center Alexa Tielmann. “We worked on how people played on their shooters and made sure they were shut down in practice. And it worked out really well in the game.”
Tielmann scored 28 seconds into the second half, giving UCLA it’s largest lead of the game at five goals, though USC put up a run over the next four minutes.
USC’s Brigitta Games flicked the ball over sophomore goalkeeper Carlee Kapana, Haralabidis scored on full-court counter attack and freshman Maud Megens put in a goal off an assist from Haralabidis after a Trojan timeout.
All of a sudden, USC was within two scores of tying up the game. The next two goals went to the Bruins, however – Fattal punching in a bar-in upper left corner from the five-meter line, and Musselman finishing her fifth of the game – and extended the lead out to 9-5.
“(Musselman’s) come in and she’s finding her role more and more,” Brooks said. “She’s got really good players around her that get her the ball when she’s open and draw attention elsewhere. She’s a great player and the beneficiary of a great team.”
The Trojans won the sprint for the first time to start the fourth, which led to a score on the same possession, but it would be their last of the game.
UCLA would ultimately pull away from the Trojans with back to back scores from freshman utility Bronte Halligan to make it 11-7.
After the Bruins shut down Stanford leading scorer Maggie Steffens last week, USC’s top scorer, Haralabidis, exited the game with two goals, scoring in the first and third periods, respectively.
The win secures UCLA not only the No. 1 seed in the MPSF conference championships, but also a first-round bye in the half of the bracket that does not include Stanford or USC.
Brooks said last weekend in Stanford that the seedings aren’t nearly as important as who is playing good water polo at the moment, though with today’s win, the Bruins potentially have both going for them.
“I think it give us a lot of energy,” Musselman said. “I wouldn’t say we are comfortable with where we are. Obviously, being No. 1 is great, but the end goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season.”