The Bruins will face their first top-10 test this weekend.
No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (5-0) will stay local when traveling to face No. 6 Pepperdine (9-2) on Saturday. The Bruins haven’t lost to the Waves since 2008, a streak that spans 18 straight matches. However, Pepperdine enters the game with only two losses this season – both of which came against No. 2 UC Santa Barbara.
Despite UCLA’s recent head-to-head history with Pepperdine, coach Adam Wright said the Waves deserve a lot of respect because of their results from this season and the program they’ve built.
“Pepperdine is one of the best programs in the country,” Wright said. “Going to Pepperdine, they have a tough place to play, and we’ve had to clean some things up this week. We need to be well prepared because that is a dangerous team we will face on Saturday.”
Pepperdine defeated then-No. 7 Long Beach State and then-No. 9 UC San Diego to climb from No. 8 to a season-high No. 6 in the rankings. And on Sept. 19 – after previously losing to Santa Barbara by six goals – the Waves took the Gauchos to overtime and lost in the final seconds 16-15.
UCLA is tied with the Gauchos at No. 2 in the rankings after UCSB defeated then-No. 1 USC and then-No. 4 California earlier this season.
Then-No. 3 Stanford skipped over UCLA in this week’s rankings, earning the top spot after then-No. 1 USC lost to then-No. 4 Santa Barbara. UCLA and Stanford have played the same two ranked teams – No. 14 Princeton and No. 18 San Jose State – and each have defeated three other unranked opponents this season.
Pepperdine may be the Bruins’ first top-10 challenge, but sophomore attacker Matthew Kacura said the team is coached to approach each opponent with the same mentality and focus on what it can control.
“We treat every team we play the same,” Kacura said. “We go into the game with the same mindset as we go into every game, every practice. Every game we play is a pretty big learning step, but we put our heads down and play hard against each team.”
Eight Bruins have scored three or more goals in a game this season, including Kacura, who scored six goals in the Bruins 20-2 victory over La Salle in the season-opening Navy Open.
But the Bruins haven’t seen many players like Pepperdine will bring to the pool.
Sophomore attacker Balazs Kosa led the Golden Coast Conference – that includes Santa Barbara, Long Beach State and UC Irvine – in both goals and assists at the beginning of the week. Sophomore attacker Curtis Jarvis also began the week fourth in the conference in both categories.
While they weren’t top-10 collegiate water polo teams, UCLA has faced some high-level competition already this season. The Bruins lost two games to Italian professional team Pro Recco and defeated professional American team Olympic Club at the Stanford Invitational Sept. 14-15.
Freshman attacker Jack White said the games against professional clubs provided a unique opportunity for UCLA to grow, but it will be exciting to get back into college play against a California foe.
“Pro Recco is one of the most-storied water polo clubs in the history of the sport,” White said. “We learned and watched every moment to understand water polo at that level, but it’s going to be pretty excited because we’re back in season play, having another game that counts toward the record.”
The Bruins’ trip to Malibu this weekend will mark the first time this season that the Bruins have only one game on their weekend schedule.