The Bruins faced their first multi-goal deficit of the season.
No. 6 Pepperdine (9-3) scored the first three goals and held a 5-2 lead over No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (6-0) into the end of the first quarter.
“Give credit to Pepperdine, they were ready to go,” said UCLA coach Adam Wright. “We’re young, we have a lot of moving parts and changes going on in our program. I really liked the way we were able to stay composed – for the most part – and get ourselves back into the game.”
And the Bruins came back in a big way.
After two scoreless minutes to open the second period, junior attacker Chasen Travisano drew an exclusion – and 22 seconds later – scored his first goal of the season to bring the score to 5-3. Saturday was Travisano’s first game back after missing the Bruins’ first five games because of injury.
The Bruins scored the next three goals to take the lead, with the first two coming from sophomore attacker Ashworth Molthen.
“We didn’t bring the energy that we wanted in the beginning of the game,” Molthen said. “I think we feed off each other’s energy really well, and that’s what we did later in the game. We brought the energy we needed and took hold of the game in the second quarter.”
With the score at five apiece, sophomore utility Jake Cavano drew an exclusion with 3:05 left in the quarter and freshman attacker Tommy Gruwell took advantage of the power play to give UCLA a 6-5 advantage.
The Bruins and Waves added a goal each to make it 7-6 at the half. Cavano started off the scoring in the third quarter after freshman center Gabe Discipulo drew the second of his three exclusions to extend UCLA’s lead to 8-6.
Four more scores, including two by junior attacker Nicolas Saveljic and another by Cavano, gave the Bruins a 12-9 lead going into the fourth.
“In the beginning, we were making some little errors,” Cavano said. “But toward the end of the game we could fine-tune some of those errors and we started to see better results.”
The Bruins gave up only four goals in the second and third quarters after allowing five in the first period.
Part of UCLA’s shift in success defending Pepperdine was the improvement in its power play defense. After going 0-for-3 defending six-on-five situations in the first period, the Bruin defense gave up only one goal in the three exclusion opportunities during the second and third quarters.
Molthen led the Bruins with four steals on the defensive side and said UCLA’s preparation for Pepperdine was centered around defending against its formidable offensive talent.
“This whole week our main focus was going over all their plays for our defense,” Molthen said. “We knew at the end of the game, the defensive side of the pool would be most important for us. That’s where the team’s mindset was the whole game.”
Attacker Balazs Kosa led Pepperdine with four goals and chipped in two assists, while center Chris Dilworth added three goals – including a spinning goal as time expired to end the game with UCLA on top 14-12.
Redshirt senior goalkeeper Alex Wolf played the whole game in the cage, tallying eight saves and three steals. On the offensive side, Saveljic led the Bruins with four goals, Molthen added three and Gruwell and Cavano scored two apiece.
Wright said the many upperclassmen players who led UCLA against Pepperdine showed their experience and will continue to grow as they take charge of the team this season.
“Those guys have played in some big-time moments, and their roles have expanded this year,” Wright said. “It’ll be a test of time to see how they embrace it. Today was good, and now we move forward and see how we are tomorrow.”