The Bruins squeaked past the reigning National Champions with a 9-8 double overtime win early in the season.
Now halfway through the regular season, No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (15-1) will face No. 3 California (15-1) for the second time at the Spieker Aquatics Center in its first game of conference play.
“In a tournament setting we (don’t) have a week to prepare for them,” said freshman utility Evan Rosenfeld. “It will just give us more confidence as we go into the game because we are able to watch film and we (are) able to prepare for them for a week.”
As of late, the Bruins have put an emphasis on consistency. UCLA pulled off an 8-6 win last weekend against then-No. 7 Long Beach State and never once trailed them.
However, there is still room for improvement.
“We haven’t been as consistent as we should be in practice,” Rosenfeld said. “We are starting to get there, but definitely can be more consistent in practice and that will lead us to be more consistent in games.”
Junior defender Warren Snyder echoed Rosenfeld in stating that the teams consistency is improving – once that consistency is locked in, it will then translate into the game.
The Bruins last faced the Bears in late September, where the freshman class drove the offense. Freshmen attackers Nicolas Saveljic, Chasen Travisano and Luke Henriksson combined to score over half of UCLA’s goals.
Cal is known for its sporadic defense where players split during counterattack opportunities.
“They are pressing, they are splitting, they move very well and they’re really trying to make us make poor decisions,” said coach Adam Wright. “They are trying to make us rush and play hectic a little bit.”
Although Cal plays to a chaotic strategy, UCLA was still able to convert 4-of-6 power play opportunities.
Regardless, the Bruins are well aware of the defensive strategies that the Golden Bears will use.
“We know that they are going to press us and they are going to jump and try to get up on the counter,” Rosenfeld said. “Their defense just feeds their counterattack – that’s what their defense does. The goal of the defense is to get goals on the offense end.”
Cal has been outscoring its opponents 82-41 since its loss to UCLA on Sept. 23. Both Johnny Hooper and Luca Cupido have combined to score 75 goals so far this season.
This season, UCLA has averaged 11 goals per game against Cal and USC, both of which are in the Big Four. The Bruins outscored those opponents 22-19 this season.
“It’s a team game and if anyone gets beat, we are going to have teammates that help them,” Snyder said.
In the cage for Cal is goalkeeper Kevin Le Vine. Le Vine is averaging over seven saves per game and registered 17 saves against UCLA in its last matchup.
“The hard part is, they are really good at what they do,” Wright said. “And the reality is, that’s the test of the game: Will we stay within our game? Or will we let their defense dictate how we play on our attack?”