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March Madness: Sweet 16 runs

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo to resume rivalry with No. 2 USC in Crosstown Splashdown

Graduate student attacker Nicolas Saveljic and No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo are set to take on No. 2 USC on Saturday for the first time since the Bruins took down the Trojans in the 2020 NCAA championship. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's Water Polo

No. 2 USC
Saturday, 1 p.m.

Uytengsu Aquatics Center
Pac-12 Los Angeles

By Ricardo Garcia

Nov. 5, 2021 3:28 p.m.

The Bruins are set to take on the Trojans for the first time since the 2020 NCAA championship.

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (16-1, 1-0 MPSF) will travel across town to take on No. 2 USC (15-1, 1-1) on Saturday in a rematch of last season’s national title game. The Bruins’ last game against the Trojans saw them claim a 7-6 win at Uytengsu Aquatics Center in March to claim the 12th national championship in the program’s history and the fourth in the last seven years for the blue and gold.

The two teams’ first matchup this season will come with seeding implications for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. While UCLA, USC and California are all still in contention for the No. 1 seed, the Bruins control their own destiny and can clinch the top seed with a win in their final two games.

With UCLA and USC splitting their six meetings in the 2020-2021 season, graduate student attacker Nicolas Saveljic said he expects a special atmosphere Saturday for the Crosstown Splashdown.

“It’s going to be a very crowded environment that we’re going to face on Saturday,” Saveljic said. “Every time we play each other it’s always a good one.”

Redshirt senior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim, who opted out of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said despite missing out on last season’s matchups with the Trojans, he treats the rivalry game like any other.

“It doesn’t matter how many people are in the crowd, we play with the same intensity that we always strive to play with in every game,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “No matter what, I look forward to it.”

UCLA is coming off a bye entering the weekend’s contest and is riding a seven-game win streak.

Despite the streak, the Bruins have seen mixed results down the stretch in their last two seasons. In 2019, UCLA missed out on the NCAA tournament altogether after dropping four of its final five games, including two of three in the MPSF Tournament. In 2020, the Bruins entered the NCAA tournament on a four-game losing streak after going winless in the conference tournament.

Coach Adam Wright said despite having a good week of training, his team still needs to be locked in through the season’s end.

“It will happen from time to time,” Wright said. “I really feel if we can tighten that up from a consistency standpoint and can kind of control the pace and play our style of water polo, then we’re going to have our chance.”

In two wins against top-10 opponents in their last two games, the Bruins scored more goals in six-on-five situations than they did over a three-week period following the MPSF Invitational in September.

Brozyna-Vilim said the team has had the mindset of attacking with greater intensity.

“Everyone has to be willing to provoke the goalie and defense in order to have one player commit,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “We then open up another player on offense.”

For both Saveljic and Brozyna-Vilim this weekend’s game could potentially mark the final time they play USC, barring a postseason matchup.

Brozyna-Vilim said he is soaking in what could be the last time he plays against the Trojans.

“It’s emotional,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “There’s such a long tradition of great competitiveness between the two schools. I’ll remember how much fun it was playing those games, having the fans yell at you or cheer you on.”

Wright, who has experienced the rivalry firsthand as both a player and coach, noted the differences in how he prepared for the Trojans in the water and on the pool deck.

“As a player, as you’re going through it and the week, of course there’s excitement building up,” Wright said. “You try to treat everything the same, but the rivalry is really deep. As a coach, it’s vastly different. It’s all about the preparation and preparing game plans and preparing each training and making sure we’re covering everything. It’s like a chess match.”

Opening sprint for UCLA’s penultimate game of the regular season is set for 1 p.m. at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

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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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