The Bruins will be facing two ranked teams this weekend, including a home match for the first time since Feb. 1.
No. 2 UCLA women’s water polo (19-2, 2-0 MPSF) will face No. 5 UC Irvine (15-5, 1-0 Big West) on Friday at Irvine before returning home to face No. 6 Arizona State (12-5, 1-1 MPSF) on Saturday. This will be the first meeting between UCLA and UCI this season and the second time the Bruins meet the Sun Devils.
Coach Adam Wright said defense was the key focus of last weekend’s games against No. 9 California (11-7, 0-2) and No. 22 Pacific (3-13, 1-1 GCC) and continues to be for this week’s preparation after a defensive mishap against Pacific. Five of Pacific’s eight goals were scored in the last quarter.
“We just got a little bit passive, lackadaisical on our defensive side and that can’t happen,” Wright said. “Overall, last weekend from the defensive perspective, it was a really good effort, but we don’t want to allow eight goals like we did with Pacific.”
Last time the Bruins played the Sun Devils, they conceded eight goals but still left the match victorious. As of UCLA’s most recent match against Pacific, its average goals conceded is 5.9 per game.
Wright said the Bruins’ inexperience at the time of that match contributed to their opponents’ offensive success.
“We’ve grown as a group since then,” Wright said. “That was earlier on in the year – we had a lot of new people trying a lot of different combinations.”
Arizona State saw three players score two goals each in the last time it faced UCLA – a more evenly distributed offense, similar to that of the Bruins.
“We really emphasize on the team that it is not about one individual’s accomplishments or impact on the game,” said freshman utility Abbi Hill. “It’s a team effort. Even if I’m not having a great game, I know I have other people on my team to pick up the slack.”
Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Georgia Phillips said her team learned valuable lessons from the earlier matches.
“We learned to really be present … starting out fiery and not holding back the entire game,” Phillips said. “We learned a lot about how we can work together.”
Hill said working together to score goals requires key defensive plays to open up scoring opportunities. The Bruins have scored 10 or more goals in 16 of their 21 games thus far, and Hill said a strong defensive presence has allowed UCLA to stay in games when its shots are not hitting their target.
“We have been focusing a lot on defense and changing (it) from the last time we played (Arizona State),” Hill said. “We can never just rely on our offense. We have to stop them with defense and try to put ourselves in a good position.”
Friday’s match against UCI at Irvine will start at 6 p.m. The Bruins will then play the Sun Devils at 11 a.m. on Saturday. UCLA was previously scheduled to face No. 15 Indiana (13-5) after Arizona State, but the match has been canceled.
Because of restrictions, match attendance will be limited to “essential personnel” as defined by UCLA Athletics.