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UCLA men’s water polo finds defensive success, maintains win streak

Making his season debut after missing the first seven games of the season, graduate student attacker Nicolas Saveljic scored five goals in two games as No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo beat No. 5 UC Santa Barbara and No. 6 Long Beach State. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Water Polo

No. 1 UCLA9
No. 6 Long Beach State6
No. 1 UCLA12
No. 5 UC Santa Barbara10

By Ricardo Garcia

Sept. 20, 2021 1:03 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 23 at 12:49 a.m.

The Bruins extended their win streak to nine with back-to-back victories against top-ranked teams.

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo’s (9-0) defense contributed to a 9-6 win over No. 6 Long Beach State (8-1). In their second game of the weekend Saturday, the Bruins picked up a 12-10 victory over No. 5 UC Santa Barbara (11-2).

Coming into Friday’s match, the Bruins held a combined 7-6 first-quarter goal differential advantage against recently ranked opponents. Coach Adam Wright said the team’s defense helped set the tone in its contest against Long Beach State.

“The intensity on the defensive side (Friday) was much better,” Wright said. “We held a really good team to six goals.”

The six goals allowed by the Bruins on Friday marked a season low in scoring for the Beach, as they had been averaging 15.4 goals per game through their first eight games.

Wright said UCLA’s defensive success can be attributed to adjustments in mechanics made during practice.

“We’ve been working a lot on body position,” Wright said. “We weren’t getting ourselves into the right position, which is dictated by the ball. The ball was flying all over the place the last couple of weekends, which makes it hard on our defenders.”

Although the nine goals the Bruins scored marked a season low, nine different players recorded a goal in the game.

“Everyone contributes to team success, no matter if they score or not,” said graduate attacker Nicolas Saveljic. “Everyone has a job.”

Saveljic, the reigning Peter J. Cutino Award winner, made his season debut Friday and scored five goals over his first two games.

Despite the time missed, Saveljic said his transition back to competition wasn’t difficult since the game action wasn’t much different than practice.

“We try being consistent,” Saveljic said. “We don’t really do much different.”

Locked at 7-7 at halftime against the Gauchos on Saturday, UCLA ultimately pulled away, outscoring UCSB 4-1 in the third quarter and holding off a late comeback attempt in the fourth quarter to hold on for its ninth consecutive win.

Sophomore goalkeeper Garret Griggs, starting in place of junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi for the eighth time this season, said he benefited from the improved defensive intensity over the weekend.

“When I have a team in front of me that is committed on the defensive end and is taking their blocks, getting steals in the passing lanes, it helps me out a ton,” Griggs said. “I’m really happy that they’re starting to come around on the defensive end more recently.”

UCLA next travels to the Bay Area for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Invitational at Berkeley’s Spieker Aquatics Complex, where they will face the winner of No. 7 Pacific and No. 10 Pepperdine on Friday.

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Ricardo Garcia | Sports reporter
Garcia is currently a reporter on the women's water polo beat. He was previously a contributor on the swim & dive, track & field and men's water polo beats.
Garcia is currently a reporter on the women's water polo beat. He was previously a contributor on the swim & dive, track & field and men's water polo beats.
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