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Men’s water polo to dive into conference play with 2nd season matchup against Cal

No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo sophomore attacker Ashworth Molthen leads the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference with 30 assists and 62 points as the team enters conference play against No. 8 California on Saturday.(Liz Ketcham/Photo editor)

Men's Water Polo

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Spieker Aquatics Center
No TV info

By Will Foote

Nov. 1, 2019 12:57 a.m.

The Bruins will begin conference play at home.

No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (15-1) will host No. 8 California (10-7) at Spieker Aquatics Center on Saturday, when the Bruins start Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference matches. UCLA has three conference matchups on its slate against California, No. 7 USC and No. 1 Stanford, but will not play Penn State Behrend or Austin College – two other conference opponents.

“We know California’s team has the ability to put themselves in a position to do well against any team in the country,” said coach Adam Wright. “From this point forward, the stakes continue to rise as we head into the postseason.”

Though Saturday’s match will be the Bruins’ first official MPSF matchup, UCLA and California met earlier this season in the quarterfinals of the SoCal Invitational, with the Bruins winning the match 12-9. UCLA’s .545 shooting percentage and .400 power-play percentage were both more efficient marks than the Golden Bears’ .333 shooting percentage and .385 power-play percentage.

Sophomore attacker Ashworth Molthen – who tallied two assists and two goals in the first matchup against California – said improving defensively is one of the Bruins’ goals as they face the Golden Bears again.

“We just need to focus on ourselves and our defense,” Molthen said. “We need to have more energy. Knowing what defense we’re running and communication – if we get those together, the defense will come together.”

Molthen co-led UCLA with two of the squad’s seven steals in the teams’ previous matchup against California. On the season, Molthen is second in the MPSF with 21 steals and is the conference leader in assists and points, with 30 and 62, respectively.

Including their loss to the Bruins on Sept. 28, the Golden Bears – who had begun the season with an 8-3 record – have a 2-4 record over their last six matches. The Bruins have a 7-1 record over that same time period.

Despite the Bruins owning a six-game winning streak heading into MPSF play, freshman attacker Tommy Gruwell – who is fourth on the team with 21 goals – said they still have room for improvement.

“We need to stick together,” Gruwell said. “Staying focused is a big key for us. We still need to improve our 5-on-6 (defense) and 6-on-5 (offense).”

Saturday’s matchup will feature goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg for the Golden Bears and redshirt senior goalkeeper Alex Wolf for the Bruins. Weinberg’s 151 saves are good for second in the MPSF, but out of all MPSF goalkeepers with at least 100 saves on the year, Wolf’s .561 save percentage leads the group.

“Wolf is a crazy athlete and he’s crazy talented,” Molthen said. “When he’s in the game, he’s probably one of the best goalies in the country. We need that from him every day.”

Wolf has tallied 120 saves this season – which have come in 12 of the Bruins’ 16 games – and his 569 career saves are the sixth-most in UCLA history.

Overall, Wright thinks UCLA will face a different California team than the one it defeated earlier this season.

“There is no doubt that on Saturday, at home, (California) is going to be prepared,” Wright said. “We haven’t seen them now for four-plus weeks, they’re going to be a better team, and our hope is that we’re going to be a better team.”

First sprint is at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Center.

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Will Foote | Sports contributor
Foote is currently a Sports contributor. He was previously a contributor on the baseball, women's soccer, men's volleyball and men's water polo beats.
Foote is currently a Sports contributor. He was previously a contributor on the baseball, women's soccer, men's volleyball and men's water polo beats.
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