Sunday, May 24

Men’s water polo team hosts best of the US in SoCal Tournament

Bruins hope to step up defense while maintaining offense during this weekend's SoCal Tournament

Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
Spieker Aquatics Center
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UCLA kicks off the SoCal Tournament with an early game against Princeton. The Bruins will play four games over the next two days.

Ben Hohl pump-faked once, then found the back of the net with a lefty sidearm skip shot.

Griffin White sprinted behind the defense, gathered an outlet pass and scored on a counterattack.

Emilio Vieira didn’t even wait for the offense to develop; he scored on a bullet from five meters out, a shot that caught everyone by surprise.

Loyola Marymount learned it the hard way Saturday: The UCLA men’s water polo team scores in a variety of ways, and it scores in bunches.

But none of the Bruins want to talk about that.

“That’s not our goal,” redshirt junior attacker Cullen Hennessy said. “Obviously, it’s great to be one of the best offensive teams in the country, but we want to be the best defensive team in the country, and that’s been our No. 1 priority since day one.”

Fifteen of the top 20 teams in the country make their way to Westwood this weekend for the SoCal Tournament, and the No. 2 Bruins (5-1) will have a chance to measure how good their defense really is.

The reason for concern about the defensive play? The one loss on UCLA’s record: the final round of the NorCal Tournament against now-No. 1 USC. That game saw the Trojans put up eight goals in three quarters, something Hennessy said was “just not acceptable.”

“We have a lot of talented individual defenders,” Hennessy said.

“But we just really struggled to put it together and really play as a team.”

And even though UCLA was able to pull out a 14-6 win over LMU one game later, coach Adam Wright said he still had some concerns about the defense, especially given the fact that LMU’s Edgaras Asajavicius went off for five goals single-handedly.

Any problems with guarding big scorers will have to be fixed by this weekend. USC, No. 3 Cal and No. 4 Stanford all come to town and boast multiple big scorers.

“We’ve got to move forward, and we’ve got to be able to block the ball,” Wright said. “And after a guy fakes two or three times, you should be arriving; he shouldn’t be able to shoot. We’ve got to work on it.”

UCLA will still have to rely heavily on its offense though, as no matchup against the top teams in the country can be won without a complete game.

Hohl, a senior attacker, is a possible conference player-of-the-year candidate and already has 16 goals on the year.

Italian freshman Cristiano Mirarchi burst onto the scene with a five-goal game against Stanford and already has 11 goals on the year, good for 14th in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

This weekend won’t be the final test for UCLA either, as it marks the last games before MPSF play begins. With all of the conference teams sitting in the top nine of the current standings, the winner of this weekend will surely carry momentum forward into conference play.

“It’s a big weekend for everyone,” Wright said. “This is where you’ll start to see separation in terms of wins and losses.”

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