The Trojans scored five goals in the opening quarter, and the Bruins were never able to recover from the deficit despite a strong second half.
“The game got away there in the first half, but in the second half we locked it in and we played a great second half,” said coach Adam Wright. “It was for sure a tale of two halves.”
No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo’s season ended at the hands of No. 1 seed USC with a 10-6 loss in the NCAA semifinals Saturday at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The loss marks the second time in three years that the Bruins have fallen in the semifinals and the fourth time this season that they have been defeated by the Trojans.
UCLA averaged 9.5 goals per game on the season, but on Saturday was held to 6. Sophomore attacker Maddie Musselman, who leads the Bruins with 53 goals and 31 assists on the season, missed her second straight game because of an undisclosed injury.
“We wouldn’t be here this weekend if UCLA women’s water polo relied on a player. The reality is, we had our chances there, without Maddie,” Wright said. “Would it be great to have her? Of course. But we had our chances today to put ourselves in the position for the game.”
While the Bruins’ quarterfinal game was defined by their lockdown defense, Saturday’s match-up began as an offensive showdown with 7 goals in the first quarter alone. Despite logging seven shots to USC’s nine, UCLA closed out the first quarter down 5-2. Senior attacker Devin Grab was responsible for both of the Bruins’ goals, and the Trojans scored on three consecutive possessions to close out the quarter.
“There were a lot of opportunities when we put (junior goalie Carlee Kapana) in a good position and there were some when the ball was crossing and moving from one side to the other when we didn’t really help her out much,” Wright said.
Sophomore attacker Bronte Halligan blocked a USC shot with just under four minutes to play in the half, energizing the Bruins and the crowd and forcing an exclusion and a Trojan timeout. Although the energy seemed to briefly shift in UCLA’s direction, the Trojans added 2 more goals before the half and shut out the Bruins in the quarter.
There were eight exclusions between the two teams in the second period, although neither team was able to take advantage of a power-play situation. Both teams played strong 5-on-6 defense throughout the game, with UCLA ending 4-for-13 on power plays and USC at 4-for-11.
“I think the most important thing is that we created opportunities, and that’s what we work for,” said senior attacker Nicole Reynolds. “We’ve been working on it all season just to get those opportunities.”
The Bruins were able to double their score in the third quarter while holding the Trojans to 1 goal. Halligan found the back of the net midway through the quarter and junior attacker Lizette Rozeboom scored off an assist from freshman attacker Myna Simmons, with both goals coming in 6-on-5 situations.
Senior center Alexis Angermund scored 2 goals in the fourth and Kapana saved a penalty shot, but it wasn’t enough. UCLA allowed 2 more goals and fell to USC by a final score of 10-6.
Both USC goalie Amanda Logan and Kapana ended the day with 10 saves. Prior to the game, Kapana boasted a goals against average of 6.04. On Saturday, Kapana and the Bruin defense had let in that many goals before halftime.
The loss marks the end of UCLA’s 2018 season, the first with Wright as the Bruins’ head coach.
“(Wright) came in and there was no doubt in my mind that what he was going to do was give us the chance to be successful,” Grab said. “I definitely see tremendous success for this program in the future.”
USC will go on to face the winner of the California versus Stanford game in the NCAA championship Sunday.