The Tigers were reeling.
After falling to No. 3 USC the week before 15-7, the team showed up Saturday looking to assert itself in its second top-five nontournament matchup.
But the No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo team (18-0) wouldn’t have it, defeating No. 4 Pacific (12-4) in Stockton, California, on Saturday 9-5, and tying the national record of 51 straight wins set by Stanford from 1985 to 1987.
On display was the Bruins’ suffocating defense, which limited the Tigers to five goals for the second time this season. After a score by junior attacker Max Irving put UCLA up 2-1 with 3:37 left in the first quarter, the defense allowed the Bruins to hold a lead for the rest of the game.
“For the most part, defensively today we were much better than the last time we played them,” said coach Adam Wright. “We held them to three for eight on their six-on-fives, which is key because they’re a team that really tries to create … six-on-fives, an extra man opportunity.”
The Tigers drew eight exclusions on the Bruins, which along with the game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is the most an opposing team has gotten against UCLA since No. 2 California drew 11 at the Mountain Pacific Invitational.
“(Pacific’s) constantly curling center, driving guys across, and in that movement, they’re creating a lot of exclusions, giving them six-on-five opportunities which made it difficult for us to play defense,” said sophomore defender Warren Snyder.
The Tigers converted three of their first five exclusions, and early in the third quarter, it was a two-goal match. UCLA’s defense eventually adjusted to Pacific’s style of play and held the team scoreless on its final three six-on-fives.
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On the offensive side of the ball, the Bruins’ prep for the Tigers’ zone defense was apparent.
UCLA’s approach consisted heavily of the use of dual centers to open up scoring opportunities for attackers on the perimeter like Irving, who had a hat trick on the day. Nearly half of UCLA’s goals came from shots beyond the 5-meter line.
“We had been working a lot in practice on the specific defense (Pacific) runs,” Irving said. “We’ve got two good (centers for a) 4-2 structure (in junior) Matt Farmer (and senior) Gordon Marshall. They’re holding good deep positions that really open things from the outside.”