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Scouting Report: UCLA women’s water polo vs. USC

Leading UCLA women’s water polo in goals, assists and steals, sophomore attacker Hannah Palmer tops the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in points per game.

By Kyle Boal

April 21, 2021 4:40 p.m.

No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo (10-2, 8-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will host No. 1 USC (16-0, 10-0) over two games at Spieker Aquatics Center for the team’s Senior Day amid new COVID-19 protocols that allow friends and family invited by the team to attend games. The Trojans hold a pair of wins over both No. 2 Stanford and No. 4 California to go along with four victories against No. 5 Arizona State – leaving the Bruins as the only team the Trojans have yet to face in the top five. Can UCLA upset USC, or will the Trojans be too much to overcome? Here is the first-ever water polo scouting report by assistant Sports editor Kyle Boal.

USC’s offense
Strength: Finding an open shot
Weakness: Unknown
Goals per game: 12.75
X-factor: Denise Mammolito

With an average margin of victory of five goals, USC had just two games decided by a single goal – a 12-11 overtime victory over Stanford on April 11 and a 6-5 win versus Arizona State on Feb. 27.

Driver Denise Mammolito – who scored a career-high seven goals in the Trojans’ only overtime game – has recorded 40 goals this season, the most on the squad. The redshirt senior is tied for second in goals per game in the MPSF this season and fourth in the conference in sprint wins.

Tied with Mammolito in goals per game is utility Maud Megens, who has played in only 12 of the 16 games so far but netted 30 goals, as well as ranking No. 9 of all time on USC’s career scoring list with 193 goals since 2017. The redshirt senior utility has also provided 16 assists this season, third on the team.

Second on the team in goals with 33 – including a seven-goal performance of her own against then-No. 6 California on March 21 – is left-handed driver Verica Bakoc, who has earned a hat trick in four games this season and is second on the team in assists with 17.

The senior trio of Mammolito, Megens and Bacok are three of the top eight players in points in the conference this season. While each is able to create and make their own shot, the Trojans’ patient passing makes them nearly impossible to defend.

UCLA won its first game against USC since 2017 last season at the Triton Invitational, as sophomore utility Abbi Hill scored two goals in her first match versus the cardinal and gold. The Bruins dropped the second meeting later that year after going down 6-2 at halftime.

The only Trojan to score at least twice in both meetings last season was driver Grace Tehaney – USC’s leading scorer a season ago – netting two and three goals, respectively, in the two matchups against UCLA. The junior ranks fourth this season for the Trojans with 26 goals.

Driver Kelsey McIntosh leads the team in assists with 19 and is tied for fourth in the conference in assists per game. The redshirt senior had a hat trick in her team’s win over UCLA last season.

While USC has four scoring options 26 goals or greater each, the Bruins’ leading scorer in 2021 – sophomore attacker Hannah Palmer – has 26 goals herself through 12 games. Palmer also leads the team in assists with 18 and leads the conference in points per game.

Outscoring opponents 113-63 in the first halves of their contests, the Trojans pose a threat against any team to jump out to an early and insurmountable lead. If UCLA can mimic Arizona State’s performance on Feb. 27 where the Sun Devils held the Trojans’ top four scorers to just 4-of-18 shooting, the Bruins will have a chance at the upset.

USC’s defense
Strength: Steals
Weakness: Penalty shots
Goals allowed per game: 7.375
X-factor: Holly Parker

Everything begins and ends with goalkeeper Holly Parker.

Third in the conference in steals per game, Parker is the highest-rated goalkeeper on the list. The All-American has registered 96 saves in 12 games, good for eight per game. The redshirt senior’s save percentage of .536 ranks second in the conference.

The Trojans allowed goals per game is the least amount of any team in the top five and the only below eight goals per game.

Aside from the goalkeeper, Mammolito ranks tied for fifth in the conference in field blocks with eight this season. Meanwhile, Tehaney ranks seventh in steals with 25 – only six back from first place – and second in steals per game.

With 151 steals in 16 games – including a season-high 21 against then-No. 6 Michigan – USC averages just under 10 steals a game.

The Trojans have, however, allowed a penalty shot attempt in 13 of their 16 games, leading to 12 opposition goals on 23 five-meter attempts. The Bruins have had only 16 attempted penalty shots against them this season, with 11 reaching the back of the net.

To win, UCLA must take advantage of USC’s allowed penalty shots, where the blue and gold have netted 9-of-11 attempts this season. The Bruins have had 18 different players register a point this season and will need to find a way for someone other than just Palmer to score while limiting turnovers.

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Kyle Boal | Sports senior staff
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
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