Although they lost two of their last three games, the Bruins’ defense has helped them stay close against highly ranked opponents.
No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (19-2, 0-1 MPSF) has stifled its opponents on offense over the last five weeks, allowing only one team to score more than 10 goals, a game in which the Bruins still won.
Coach Adam Wright said dropping back has limited UCLA’s need to play man-down defense. The Bruins have had an average of 6.6 ejections per game over the past five contests.
“Overall, we limited our ejections,” Wright said. “Also (redshirt junior goalie Alex) Wolf has had pretty good games. We were able to field block the ball a little bit better. But really cutting down the unnecessary exclusions was important.”
UCLA has held other teams to their lowest or second-lowest goal-scoring totals of the season in seven of its past 10 games. That list includes then-No. 2 Stanford’s game and their second game against then-No. 4 California.
Sophomore utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim said time spent practicing in the pool and in the film room has helped the Bruins contain their rivals.
“We watched a lot of video, looked at their attacking holes,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “We just worked on our system of defense and how we can use that to shut down their style of play.”
Notable outings in their recent stretch of games include shutting out then-No. 8 Pepperdine, holding last year’s semifinal opponent – then-No. 6 Pacific – to five goals and limiting Stanford to eight goals in a last-second loss.
Freshman attacker Ashworth Molthen said the Bruins’ Saturday match against the Golden Bears was a result of shutting down the best players and limiting second chances.
“We’ve been working on defending Cal for weeks now,” Molthen said. “They have a lot of options, so we really just focused in on defending all their plays and after goals.”
No. 2 Stanford and No. 1 USC – UCLA’s next two opponents – have been logging high-scoring outings, averaging 14.4 and 12.6 goals per game over their past five games, respectively.
Wright said his team lamented the missed opportunities against the Golden Bears, but they now have to look forward to a big game against the Cardinal.
“(The game against Cal) was a great opportunity to grow,” Wright said. “There were moments we did a really good job, but we could be a lot better. Now we’ve got to move forward and we get another chance to improve.”