As the final seconds ticked away, the Bruins’ fans left one message.
“Just like football,” the crowd chanted.
No. 4 seed UCLA men’s water polo (22-4) defeated No. 2 seed USC (28-3) 7-4 in the third-place game of the MPSF championship less than 24 hours after UCLA football’s win over the Trojans.
Last time the teams faced each other, they combined for seven goals in the first quarter. In this match, redshirt junior goalie Alex Wolf had six saves in the first period, while the Trojans scored the lone goal of the first quarter.
Coach Adam Wright said Wolf was a game-changer, but that the Bruins should not have to rely on the first-team All-MPSF goalie to bail out the defense.
“When he’s locked in and focused the right way, he’s without a doubt the best goalie in our country,” Wright said. “That’s something that can really change the complexity of the game. He’s making some saves that are absolutely incredible.”
UCLA’s offense scored its first goals when sophomore attacker Chasen Travisano scored two in the second frame. The Bruins added three more before the half was over, holding a 5-2 lead after two quarters.
Sophomore center Quinten Osborne netted the final goal for the Bruins in the first half. He said the bond between him and the rest of the Bruins helped him score against the Trojans.
“I wanted to capitalize on the opportunity my teammate gave me,” Osborne said. “(Travisano) passed it in. These are the guys we sweat and we bleed with. I just wanted to be able to give it all to them.”
Both the Trojans and Bruins scored once in the third period. USC was close to holding the Bruins scoreless for a second quarter in the game, but freshman attacker Ashworth Molthen scored with four seconds left to put the Bruins ahead 6-3 going into the final quarter.
The two teams each added one more before the game, with senior attacker Austin Rone scoring his second of the game.
Freshman attacker Jake Cavano had his 15-game scoring streak broken, but he had two late steals to help the Bruins seal the game.
Rone said practicing the same technique over his Bruin career helped him get in a position to score the Bruins’ final goal.
“One of their players stepped up,” Rone said. “We work on stepping in behind (the defender) all the time, (and) I knew when (Molthen) got the ball, I knew I was going to be open behind.”
UCLA’s four goals allowed was the lowest for the Bruins against any Big Four opponent – USC, California and Stanford – this season. The Bruins held the Trojans to a season-low four goals, after allowing 12 goals to USC in last week’s Crosstown Splashdown.
The Bruins now await the final decision on whether they will make the NCAA tournament. A committee will decide which two teams, other than the automatic qualifier, will advance from the MPSF.
Wright said the Bruins hope they get a chance to continue in the postseason and grow from this tournament.
“Unfortunately, it’s not in our control,” Wright said. “We left it to a situation that we don’t control our own destiny. If we get the opportunity, we have to learn from what we did today to take it forward.”