The Bruins won’t get a break from top competition.
No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (9-1) will stay at home for the second straight weekend when it takes on No. 8 Long Beach State (10-6). Coming off its first loss of the season to then-No. 3 Stanford, UCLA will look to bounce back against an opponent it has beaten over 100 times in its history, including five straight dating back to 2015.
The Bruins have faced top-10 opponents in four of their last five games, and will face six in their last nine regular-season games.
Coach Adam Wright said the relatively low number of teams in college water polo and low parity between top teams jam-packs the schedule with tough opponents almost every week.
“We can see the (same) teams within the top 10 three, four or sometimes five times a year,” Wright said. “Long Beach may be ranked eighth, but they just played Stanford to a (one-goal loss) last weekend. One day off, three practices and then we have to be ready tomorrow. That’s the nature of men’s water polo – it’s a sprint from September to December.”
Long Beach State has seen its fair share of top-ranked opponents as well. The 49ers have faced five opponents currently ranked inside the top 10, including two losses each to No. 5 USC and No. 7 Pepperdine.
UCLA was able to scout Long Beach State in person when the 49ers played at Spieker Aquatics Center for their last three games of the SoCal Invitational. Wright said the real-time scouting was helpful in learning more specifics about Long Beach State’s in-game instruction, as well as the way they adjusted in game.
“(Long Beach State) is really well-coached and they’re disciplined,” Wright said. “We know they have great outside attackers and a presence in the middle. We don’t want to over-focus on our opponent, but it is nice to have some insight on how they play.”
But freshman attacker Jack White said it’s also important for the Bruins to work on their own execution.
Despite the Bruins only scoring nine goals in each of their last two games, the freshman said he’s been working more on the defensive side of the pool.
“I don’t think (the team or I) have changed too much from what we normally game-plan and try to execute,” White said. “We’re going to treat Long Beach State like every other game, but individually this week I’ve been focusing more on the defensive aspect of the game, and the offense will take care of itself.”
UCLA scored no less than 14 goals in each of its first six games, including 14 against then-No. 6 Pepperdine and 14 against then-No. 12 Princeton.
However, the Bruins failed to reach more than 12 goals in all four of its outings at the SoCal Invitational – even against then-unranked Pomona-Pitzer. In man-up situations, UCLA only scored 18 out of 43 times on the weekend.
“We really have to execute on the small details,” said sophomore attacker Jake Cavano said. “That’s where we’ll be successful, because it doesn’t matter if we score, we win by staying tough.”
Regardless of what tweaks the team may have made in practice this week, Wright said its Sunday loss to Stanford had the biggest impact on how the team has prepared for Long Beach State and the rest of the season.
“Sometimes in sports, unfortunately, it takes a negative to create a positive,” Wright said. “We’ve brought a better focus this past week, and we needed that. It helps to understand where we are in the men’s water polo landscape, and we’re not the best team in the country, but we can grow a whole lot, even in the three days before Long Beach.”
First sprint is Friday at 7 p.m. at Spieker Aquatics Center.