BERKELEY “”mdash; UCLA came out and did what it wanted to Saturday against Cal. The Bruins snuffed out the Bears’ extra-man opportunities, converted their own and asserted themselves on the road against a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opponent.
But it lasted only one quarter.
No. 2 UCLA split its first two games of men’s water polo MPSF play over the weekend, falling to No. 4 Cal in its crucial conference opener by a score of 11-8 before coming back Sunday to beat No. 7 Pacific 10-9 in Stockton.
Things started off as well as could be for the Bruins (9-3, 1-1 MPSF) Saturday at Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex.
The Bears (11-2, 1-0) couldn’t convert on either of their two power play chances in the first period against a spirited Bruin defense that looked improved from a week ago. On the other hand, UCLA converted all three of its chances with an extra man. Sophomore attacker Griffin White’s power play score with five seconds to play gave UCLA a 4-2 lead after one frame.
The Bruins had the first chance to draw blood in the second period when Cal’s Luka Saponjic got excluded at the 5:52 mark. UCLA coach Adam Wright even called a timeout to get his offense ready, but his team couldn’t get a shot off in the 20 seconds of exclusion time.
And that’s when UCLA unraveled.
“We were in complete control of the game, complete control,” Wright said. “We were one goal away from maybe having (Cal) panic, and then we panicked.”
The panic showed. UCLA took a beating as Cal strung together five consecutive goals to go up 7-4. When Josh Samuels scored his second goal of the game in the third quarter, it ended a scoreless streak that lasted more than 14 minutes.
The Bruins got within a goal early in the fourth but let the Bears go on a run again ““ this time three straight goals ““ which put the game away.
“We just got away from what we were doing,” said redshirt junior attacker Cullen Hennessy, who had two counterattack goals against Cal. “Obviously, there wasn’t much of a sense of urgency on our part, which is not acceptable because it was a huge conference game.”
One day later, UCLA rebounded against Pacific (9-5, 0-1) to bring its conference record to an even 1-1, but the loss to Cal is what the team will have to analyze going forward in conference play.
It might serve as a wake-up call to the Bruins, just like last year: After UCLA dropped a 7-6 MPSF decision to Cal at home, Wright changed the team training regimen with the hopes of UCLA changing its mentality. It ended up working ““ UCLA won the MPSF Tournament.
This year will be significantly tougher. You didn’t have to look further than the other side of the bay, where No. 6 Stanford took down No. 1 USC 5-3 to deal the Trojans their first loss of the year, to see that the MPSF has tightened up in comparison to previous years.
Next up for UCLA is a home date Friday at Spieker Aquatics Center against the very Stanford team that is fresh off taking down the previously undefeated No. 1 team.
“Things are changing, that’s the bottom line,” Wright said after Saturday’s loss.
We’re in a similar position to what we were last year,” Hennessy added. “We’re going to have to put in a lot of work over these next few weeks and make sure we take care of business in the conference.”