Adam Wright said the Bruins faced their toughest opponent yet, but he was happy with the defensive improvement.
“UCSB, at this point, has presented the biggest challenge for us,” the coach said. “But we held them to less goals than we have been (in our blowout games) last weekend.”
No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (9-0) overcame its first halftime deficit of the season, defeating No. 7 UCSB (8-2) 10-7 on the road Thursday night. The Bruins’ victory makes them undefeated through nine games for the seventh year in a row.
“I think it’s really important for a (young) team like ours,” Wright said. “We haven’t really had to go through (being down) yet, and obviously I was happy with how we responded in the second half.”
Freshman attacker Jake Cavano – who saw action for the first time this season – launched a shot during a zone attack, and netted his first goal of the year to put UCLA up 2-1 in the second quarter.
“It was just like any other shot,” Cavano said. “I saw where the goalie was, and I knew if I put a hesitation on it, he wasn’t going to get there.”
The Gauchos answered with back-to-back goals to take a 3-2 lead going into halftime, but the Bruins returned from the break with a 6-1 offensive outburst in the third period to take an 8-4 lead.
“UCSB is a good team,” Wright said. “But we knew we would be challenged at some point in the game and have our backs against the wall.”
Sophomore center Quinten Osborne led the team in scoring with 2 goals, but recognized that it was UCLA’s defense that ignited the run.
“I wouldn’t say it was about outscoring them,” Osborne said. “It was our defense (because) we were able to keep them to a very low score in that third quarter. Everything starts on defense.”
The Bruins shot 10-of-27 from the field, but were able to hold the Gauchos to shooting 25.9 percent. UCLA averaged scoring 17.5 goals coming into the contest, but contribution has been consistently spread throughout Wright’s roster.
Wright said UCLA’s balanced attack during the 6-1 run allowed six different Bruins to score from all over the pool – the counter, front court and power plays.
“It’s important (to have such a deep roster) because there’s going to be people who are going to have off days,” Wright said. “You don’t want to have to rely on a key player, and we did a good job on scoring from both sides of the pool.”
UCSB’s driver Boris Jovanovic completed a hat trick performance with back-to-back goals in the final frame to cut the deficit to 8-6. But Osborne logged back-to-back scores of his own from two meters to preserve UCLA’s lead and eventual win.
UCLA will host No. 10 Pepperdine (6-2) and Loyola Marymount (2-4) on Saturday, playing its fourth and fifth games of the week.