The Bruins are facing a top-three team this week.
And like the Bruins, the Tigers’ only losses have come at the hands of No. 1 Stanford.
No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (11-1) will face No. 3 University of Pacific (11-2) in its sixth consecutive match at Spieker Aquatics Center on Friday, before bouncing back for a doubleheader Saturday against No. 20 California Baptist (9-11) and Whittier (9-10).
Pacific has amassed multiple top-five wins this season, including a win over then-No. 1 UC Santa Barbara, and will enter the game against UCLA coming off of its second win over No. 4 USC this season.
“They’re an extremely dynamic team,” said coach Adam Wright. “They have some of the best centers and shooters in the country. They play a very specific style of water polo where if you let your guard down for a second, you’re in trouble.”
Wright said Friday’s game will be a huge opportunity for the Bruins to grow as a team against a complex offense.
“(Pacific has) a lot of players that are posting up, and they are running a lot of set plays to try and create action,” Wright said. “We’re going to have to have great body positioning and communication.”
Freshman attacker Jack White said a main focus for UCLA this past week has been working on shooting angles and making sure the defense is ready for Pacific’s attack.
Pacific attacker Engin Ege Colak is entering Friday’s game with 32 goals in 13 games this season.
However, White said the Bruins are ready to face the lefty center because of their experience against other similar players.
“We have to approach him differently, he needs to be guarded differently,” White said. “But we will be running something similar as we did with (UC Santa Barbara’s) lefty center.”
Although he plays center a majority of the time, Colak also plays on the outside for Pacific, and Wright said UCLA will have to be wary of the danger he poses everywhere in the pool.
“It’s unique; he is a left-handed center, which makes him difficult to guard,” Wright said. “Our defenders have our work cut out, and we better have great recognition of what’s going on behind us early or else we are going to be in trouble because there is no doubt he can finish the ball in many different ways.”
UCLA also worked to improve parts of its offense coming into the top-three battle.
In their most recent game against the Gauchos, the Bruins converted three out of six man-up opportunities. Junior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim said the key to UCLA’s 6-on-5 offense is constant movement and always being a threat to score.
“Every time a player gets the ball on the perimeter or the post, they have to be a threat to provoke the goalie and provoke the shot-blockers,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “Post movements are crucial to move the shot-blockers and to affect the whole 6-on-5.”
After taking on the Tigers, the Bruins will still have two more games to play. Despite its ranking, Cal Baptist has beaten two then-ranked teams this season, and played two top-10 teams to within a few goals.
Just after playing Cal Baptist, UCLA will face off against Whittier – which will also enter Saturday’s matchup coming off a game earlier in the day against Caltech. The Poets will be the first unranked team the Bruins have faced since beating the La Salle Explorers 20-2 on Sept. 8.
First sprint against Pacific will be at 7 p.m. on Friday at Spieker Aquatics Center, with UCLA’s match against Cal Baptist set for 3 p.m. on Saturday, followed by Whittier at 5 p.m.