Another title run is on the horizon for the Bruins.
No. 3 seed UCLA men’s water polo (22-4) will face No. 6 seed George Washington (23-6) to open NCAA championship play Thursday at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center.
While the Bruins have the opportunity to earn their fourth national championship in five years, coach Adam Wright is focused on them playing at the top of their game.
“The expectation is you want to be your best at the end of the year, and we have a chance to do that,” Wright said.
Thursday will be the third time UCLA and George Washington meet in the pool. The Bruins defeated the Colonials at the Princeton Invitational in 2012 and again in 2017 with scores of 22-4 and 20-4, respectively.
George Washington is coming off a 14-13 overtime victory against No. 5 seed Princeton (19-11) in the opening round Saturday. It was the Colonials’ first-ever win in an NCAA championship contest.
The Bruins have had an 11-day break from competition, which Wright said gave them time to make adjustments as they head into the final weekend of their season.
“There’s so many things we can get better at from two weeks ago (at the MPSF tournament),” Wright said. “Our transition game has to get much better. Our front court has to get much better. (Redshirt junior goalkeeper Alex Wolf) has been saving us, and that has to change, because you can’t give up easy goals at this point in the year.”
UCLA will face No. 2 seed USC (28-3) on Saturday in the semifinals should they win over George Washington.
The Bruins’ most recent game came against the Trojans in the third-place game of the MPSF championship Nov. 18. Led by Wolf’s 13 saves, UCLA won 7-4 and avenged its 12-11 loss against USC in the regular season finale.
UCLA would have likely missed out on NCAAs if they had lost to the Trojans at the MPSF championship. Sophomore center Quinten Osborne said playing USC a second time helped motivate the Bruins to play with intensity, which they hope to carry into a potential third meeting.
“Our approach was our biggest difference between the last time we played (USC) and in the MPSF,” Osborne said. “We had to embrace that there really is no tomorrow, and it’s the same in this tournament. If we can come out with that kind of fire and continue to do the little things right, then I think we have a good shot.”
Should the Bruins defeat the Trojans, UCLA will likely play No. 1 seed Stanford (20-2) in the national championship game Sunday. Stanford must defeat the winner between No. 4 seed UC San Diego (19-5) and No. 8 seed Long Beach State (14-11) to advance to the finals.
Senior attacker Austin Rone said the Bruins are preparing for any opponent they may come against.
“We’re getting ready for all three teams we could potentially face,” Rone said. “We don’t want to look ahead, but we have to prepare for every situation.”
Although the Bruins lost seven seniors from their 2017 national championship-winning team, Osborne, who logged 10 goals last season, said his experience allows him to share advice with his freshman teammates.
“Now that I know what’s coming, I feel like I can be more comfortable and help the other freshmen, who are a big part of our team, also be more comfortable,” Osborne said. “We’ve treated every game the same, so if it’s the first game or the NCAA final, it’s the same approach so there’s no surprises.”
UCLA will have the opportunity to avoid surprises Thursday at 2:45 p.m. against George Washington.