UCLA men’s water polo hopes to dive back into action after losing streak
UCLA men’s water polo earned an NCAA at-large bid on Sunday after losing both of its games in the MPSF tournament. (Elise Tsai/Daily Bruin staff)
men's water polo
|No. 2 Stanford||11|
|No. 3 UCLA||8|
|No. 4 USC||11|
|No. 2 UCLA||7|
By Kyle Boal
March 8, 2021 8:06 p.m.
The Bruins were winless at their conference tournament, but an NCAA tournament bid will give the team one more opportunity to compete.
Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament No. 2 seed UCLA men’s water polo (6-7, 5-5 MPSF) fell to No. 3 seed Stanford (6-3, 3-3) on Saturday 11-8 in the semifinals before losing to No. 4 seed USC (6-8, 3-7) on Sunday 11-7 after going down 4-0 in the first quarter.
“This weekend was tough,” said redshirt junior utility Evan Rosenfeld. “We played just not our game at all. We’re a team that’s young – we bring a lot of energy to the game. And I think that’s the opposite of what we did this weekend. We just came out (with) very flat, low energy. I think when you go down and let teams win that energy battle, and you don’t combat it, it’s really hard to get going again.”
Late Sunday night, after the team’s fourth-place finish, it was announced the Bruins would receive an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament as the No. 4 seed, set to face Western Water Polo Association champion No. 5 seed California Baptist on March 18.
UCLA will enter the tournament losing four straight games and holding a sub-.500 record, two feats that have never occurred before in program history.
Starting sophomore goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi, who had played in all but one quarter this season, rested the entire weekend because of an injury with the intention of coming back for the NCAA tournament.
In his place, 6-foot-8-inch freshman goalkeeper Garret Griggs made his first collegiate start.
“There’s a lot to take in knowing that I’d be playing in my first game … in college in the conference tournament,” Griggs said. “But slowly, I just started to kind of calm my nerves down, and I felt ready around game time. And I was like, I got it. I can do it.”
Griggs registered 12 saves while allowing 11 goals on Saturday and adding two steals. The Bruins would hold the Cardinal to just 1-of-7 shooting in man-up situations, but Stanford ended the final three quarters adding one-goal advantages.
Against USC, redshirt freshman Chase Honaker, who played during the one quarter Maurizi didn’t this season, got the start, but once down 8-3 with roughly two minutes left in the third, Griggs was substituted in. In the final two minutes of the game, UCLA played without a goalkeeper, having senior attacker Nicolas Saveljic fill the role to put the Bruins in a consistent man-up 7-on-6 situation with no one in the cage.
Coach Adam Wright said Maurizi will start in the NCAA tournament.
“We have to be mindful of our student-athletes and their health and how they’re feeling physically,” Wright said. “So, I mean, (Maurizi is) OK. He could have played, but it was better to err on the side of caution and hold him out this weekend.”
Stanford would win three games at the conference tournament, including matches against Penn State Behrend and No. 1 seed California to win its third consecutive MPSF title. Hosting the tournament at Spieker Aquatics Center, Wright said he was disappointed with the performance.
“It’s a bummer because this group has been really great. How they trained and how they’ve grown together as a group – it’s really been a joy to be around this year,” Wright said. “I just did not expect to see what transpired this weekend and in the end, it falls on me, the coach of the program. It was disappointing. We’ve demonstrated throughout the year that, you know, we can play with everyone, and we absolutely did not play close to our best water polo this weekend.”
The Bruins’ fourth-place finish was the same as last year’s, where the team would go on to miss the postseason for the first time in six years. This time around, with both teams averaging 11.33-11.33 head-to-head over three games this season, UCLA would play top-seeded Stanford with a win over California Baptist. The Bruins are 2-1 against the Cardinal this season, with its only loss in the conference tournament.
“You could tell (Wright) really wants to win. He’ll do anything he can to get his team to victory and to get that NCAA championship,” Griggs said. “I really appreciate that as a player. As a player you want to win when you see your coach doing just as much as you do. It really makes you give your best effort every day.”
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