For the Bruins, offensive efficiency – rather than number of shots taken – has led to victories over top-10 teams.
No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (16-3, 1-2 MPSF) lost to No. 1 Stanford (17-2, 2-1) 17-11 in its most recent match, scoring one goal for each year it had been since the Bruins lost by more than five goals – their last such loss being a 10-goal defeat by the Cardinal in 2008.
Though the margin of defeat was greater than each of their previous two losses this season, the Bruins’ performance followed a trend they’ve seen against their top-10 opponents the entire season: lose the shooting percentage battle, lose the match.
Coach Adam Wright said the Bruins’ defensive game plan against Stanford – which centered around a zone – allowed the Cardinal to take seven more shots than UCLA.
“We had to play a zone today because they have the best center in the country (Ben Hallock), so they’re going to give more shots off,” Wright said. “But the disappointing part is we gave up counterattack goals. We gave easy goals to the guy we’re trying to stop (Hallock).”
Taking fewer shots than their opponents is not atypical for the Bruins. In its 10 matches against top-10 teams this year, UCLA has taken 54 fewer shots than its opponents, winning the shots battle only once – its loss to Stanford on Sept. 29.
However, freshman attacker Tommy Gruwell said defensive errors led to the Cardinal getting off 32 shots to the Bruins’ 25 in their November matchup and winning the shooting percentage battle, .531-.440.
“Our shot blocking and defensive positioning was not good at all,” Gruwell said. “We didn’t come out and literally try to make defensive stops. That’s on us.”
The Bruins’ other two losses in the season have also been characterized by opponents being more efficient on offense. UCLA dropped the shooting battle .464-.290 in its first loss to Stanford on Sept. 29, and again to then-No. 4 USC on Nov. 9, .370-.269.
On the contrary, when they have beaten top-10 teams, the Bruins have taken fewer shots and been more efficient converting them. Despite shooting the ball 49 fewer times than its opponents in its seven top-10 wins, UCLA averaged a shooting percentage of .484 to its opponents’ .293 mark in these matches.
UCLA has also lost the overall save percentage battle in its three losses, .480-.384. The only time UCLA lost the match but won the save percentage battle came against USC, when redshirt senior goalkeeper Alex Wolf’s .545 mark eclipsed Trojan goalkeeper Nic Porter’s .500 mark.
But it was freshman goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi making his fifth start of the year Saturday against Stanford, not Wolf. Maurizi was outsaved by Cardinal goalkeeper Andrew Chun, .450-.320.
Nonetheless, sophomore attacker Matthew Kacura said Maurizi’s performance was not to blame for the Bruins’ loss.
“We just didn’t come out with the right energy,” Kacura said. “We had a game plan and we didn’t execute it the way we were supposed to.”
The Bruins will have a chance to improve their poor shooting performances from the three losses to the Trojans and the Cardinal. No. 3 seed UCLA will have to best No. 2 seed Stanford and No. 1 seed USC in the upcoming MPSF conference tournament to guarantee its spot in December’s NCAA Championships.
UCLA’s first round matchup in the MPSF tournament will be against either Austin College or Penn State Behrend at 1 p.m. on Friday at the Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley.