INDIANAPOLIS — After coach Brandon Brooks’ team committed a number of offensive fouls in Friday’s first-round match against No. 16 Wagner, he said his team’s aggressiveness has been a key part of how No. 1 UCLA women’s water polo has played all season long, and that he doesn’t want them to take any steps back.
If the Bruins’ no-steps-back approach wasn’t evident then, it was Saturday.
California (16-10, 2-4 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) and UCLA (24-1, 6-0) had a combined 22 penalties in the Bruins’ 14-11 win over the Bears in the semifinal of the NCAA Tournament – 21 exclusions, and one 5-meter.
“We got here playing a certain way, a certain style, and we’re not going to change that now,” Brooks said. “You have to be the team that you are at this point.”
The bulk of them – eight – came in the third quarter, but the pace and play to come was evident from the first few minutes. Through their first five possessions, the Bruins only failed to score once.
They got out to a 4-1 lead behind two goals from freshman attacker Maddie Musselman and one each from redshirt senior attacker Rachel Fattal and junior center Alexis Angermund.
The Bruins spread the scoring across seven different players in the first two quarters to post a season-high nine first-half goals against the Bears, but they only maintained a three-goal lead thanks to the Bears’ power-play offense.
Cal was two-for-three on man-up opportunities against UCLA at the end of the first quarter, and that percentage would only rise throughout the first half and beyond. At the end of two, it was five-for-six, and into the third the Bears were six-for-seven.
“They got a lot of movement with their extra man, and they’ve got some world class shooters,” Brooks said. “At the same time, whether it was the reserves or whether it was us trying to sort out things as they were doing it, we missed some blocks, and we were out of position on some plays, especially early.”
For all its work on the offensive end of man-up chances, Cal never made ground on UCLA because of the Bruins’ own power-play looks.
After redshirt senior defender Alys Williams scored within the first minute of the third to give the Bruins a 10-6 lead, their last four goals never came on even strength, and they finished six-for-10.
Still, Cal never allowed the Bruins to build more than a four-goal lead.
After senior utility Mackenzie Barr’s first goal of the game in the second quarter, every time UCLA scored, Cal followed it up with a goal of its own.
Williams’ second of the game started the third and was followed by Cal’s Kindred Paul. Musselman’s third was followed by the Bears’ Anna Illes and Barr’s third by Emma Wright just three seconds later.
“After we did get scored on we kept our chins up and went right back at them,” Musselman said. “Whether we gave up goals on six-on-five or in the half-court, we didn’t let it get to us and we just kept grinding.”
National championship game set
UCLA will face No. 2 Stanford on Sunday at noon for the national championship. The past two times the Bruins have reached the championship game, their opponents have been the Cardinal, and each time UCLA has lost.
In 2014 it was by a score of 9-5, and in 2015, it was on a 5-meter penalty in the final seconds.
“I think it’s going to be stressful,” Barr said. “It’s going to be a high intensity game and how we respond and bounce back and show resilience like we did today will be really important.”