Shutting down an opposing water polo team’s 20 seconds of 5-on-6 action, an event that occurs when a player is sent out of play for an exclusion penalty, can be a morale booster for the defending team and a momentum killer for the squad that fails to capitalize on the man advantage.
One of the strengths and focal points of the UCLA men’s team all season has been its 5-on-6 defense, but last Friday against California those scenarios proved to be Kryptonite for the Bruins.
“Playing good 5-on-6 defense is something we pride ourselves on and center our team around,” coach Adam Wright said. “But we really struggled in that regard against Cal, and it hurt us.”
The No. 2 Bears (12-4, 1-1 MPSF) scored on four of their five 5-on-6 opportunities, a number which proved crucial in a 7-6 final. Cal was able to get plenty of prime scoring opportunities against UCLA’s usually-stout five-man defense, and the Bears were efficient in converting their chances. Many of Cal’s goals came on long shots from the perimeter that the Bears were able to get off without defensive pressure and with limited interference from the hands of the Bruin defenders.
“Obviously that area of our game has to improve,” Wright said. “The strength of our team is definitely our defense, and without a strong 5-on-6 game we are really going to struggle out there.”
“I told the team this week that we have to get back on track here,” he added. “When we lose our ability to defend 5-on-6, we lose part of our identity.”
Higher conversion rate
After managing just two goals in the first half of the Cal game, the Bruins were left searching for answers on how to improve their offensive performance, particularly early in games where they have faced quick deficits in each of their three consecutive losses.
“We have to do a better job of converting our great opportunities,” redshirt sophomore attacker Cullen Hennessy said. “A lot of times in the first half it seemed like the chances were there, but we just weren’t able to put anything in the net.”
After reviewing film of the game, Wright agreed that with a few different bounces the Bruins’ offensive totals would have looked a whole lot different.
“The chances were definitely there for us,” he said. “If we had done just a slightly better job of converting shots and had gotten a break or two, we could have easily been up by two or three goals in the first half.”
Among their various missed opportunities, the Bruins hit the crossbar of the net twice in the first half.
Women’s team makes a splash
At halftime of the Cal game, the 10 freshman members of the UCLA women’s water polo team performed a dance routine to a variety of popular music. Following the exhibition, which was met with enthusiasm and thunderous applause by the capacity crowd, the women leaped into the pool.