Despite getting the chance to play in front of a raucous home crowd at Spieker Aquatics Center for only the second time this season, the UCLA men’s water polo team was unable to match the aggression and execution of its opponents as it fell to California 7-6 on Friday night.
The No. 4 Bruins (12-5, 0-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) knew they would have their hands full with the No. 2 Golden Bears (12-4, 1-1), who had proven they were among the nation’s elite after knocking off then-No. 1 Stanford a week ago.
A defensive struggle ensued early in Friday’s match, with Cal getting a pair of early goals before redshirt senior center Cole Consani and junior attacker Ben Hohl each scored for the Bruins to even things up at 2-2 heading into halftime.
“We came out looking to establish a rhythm out there,” redshirt sophomore attacker Cullen Hennessy said. “Cal came out aggressively on both ends of the pool and was able to do some good things against us.”
The offense picked up considerably following the intermission, with Cal converting on its scoring chances. The Bears picked up three quick goals before UCLA redshirt senior attacker Scott Davidson managed to convert one of his own. Both teams added an additional tally, giving Cal a 6-4 advantage heading into the final period.
A converted penalty shot gave Cal a three-goal lead early in the fourth quarter, and that margin was too much for a struggling UCLA offense to overcome. Although redshirt senior goalkeeper Chay Lapin and the Bruins’ defense held the Bears scoreless the rest of the way, the offense only managed a pair of 6-on-5 goals in the final minutes, including another by Davidson with 26 seconds to go.
On the ensuing possession, however, Cal was able to run out the clock.
“There were a few good things happening at the end of the game for us,” Hennessy said. “But we had to press because we were down, and that’s not a situation we want to find ourselves in. It was all too little too late.”
One issue for the Bruins on the defensive side of the pool was defending Cal’s 6-on-5 attack; the Bears exploited what is usually an area of strength for the Bruins by converting on their first three opportunities with the man advantage and scored at the end of their fourth while UCLA’s Emilio Vieira was swimming back into play.
Davidson and Hohl each finished with a pair of goals for the Bruins, while Consani and freshman Griffin White contributed one apiece. Lapin stopped seven shots in the cage for UCLA, but his play was overshadowed by that of Cal’s sophomore goalkeeper Wil Toppen, who stopped a number of prime scoring opportunities by the Bruins, including a chance by Hennessy at the first-half buzzer.
The loss was the third in a row for UCLA, who now has significant ground to make up in the MPSF standings. With road games on tap against Loyola Marymount and UC Irvine, a pair of top-10 teams, the schedule isn’t getting any easier for the Bruins.