The Bruins could not go three-for-three against their crosstown rival.
No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (19-4, 1-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) lost to No. 4 USC (25-3, 1-2) in the championship game of the MPSF tournament 7-5 at Avery Aquatic Center in Stanford, California, on Sunday. The Bruins won both the teams’ prior matchups this season.
The Trojans struck first as Matteo Morelli had his shot bounce off the head of UCLA senior attacker Jack Grover and ricochet into the net past redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Alex Wolf. The Trojans held a lead the rest of the way in what became a defensive match for both teams.
“When the ball bounced off my head, I just kind of dismissed it,” Grover said. “I tried to worry about the next play, not really worry about it … we didn’t come out with great energy.”
The two teams scored just 12 times combined, compared to 24 and 23 goals in their first two meetings this season.
Grover and freshman attacker Nicolas Saveljic both scored twice for the Bruins. Morelli and Blake Edwards scored two goals apiece for the Trojans. Three of the top scorers from the game in Westwood on Nov. 11 – UCLA senior utility Alex Roelse, USC’s Zach D’Sa and USC’s Marko Vavic – were held scoreless.
One problem for the Bruins was their inability to take advantage of the six-on-five opportunities. They did not score once on a power play Sunday, while the Trojans converted multiple times with the man advantage.
“All weekend our six-on-five wasn’t great,” coach Adam Wright said. “We still kept ourselves in the game … on Friday we went zero-for-six and we still found a way to win. We have to work on that for sure.”
The Bruins’ first loss of the year to the Trojans drops them to 4-3 against their three California rivals: USC, No. 1 Stanford (19-5, 2-1) and No. 2 California (20-3, 2-1).
“We can get a whole lot better,” senior attacker Max Irving said. “We have a great ceiling to grow. … Counterstrike, counterattack, transition defense, frontcourt moving … there’s plenty of stuff to work on.”
Two weeks from now, the two teams might be competing for the NCAA title. The Trojans clinched an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament with the conference title. Although the Bruins didn’t win, they received an at-large bid and the top seed.
The semifinals of the tournament will be held Dec. 2 at USC. UCLA will face either Pacific, UC Davis or Pomona-Pitzer, and could potentially meet USC in the final.
The Bruins won 13-11 over the Trojans in their game at USC. If the Bruins do make the final weekend, they will be looking for their third title in four years. The Trojans will be going for their first title since their six-year run ended with their last title in 2013.
“I don’t think we played our best,” Grover said. “If we train the right way this next coming week or two … we’ll put ourselves in the situation where we set out to be at the beginning of the year … Obviously we want to win, and our system will hopefully allow us to do that.”