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UCLA men’s water polo advances to NCAA semifinals with win over Princeton

Junior attacker Tommy Gruwell scored a hat trick in the first half to lead No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo in scoring Thursday as the blue and gold conquered No. 11 Princeton, advancing to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. (Ariana Fadel/Daily Bruin staff)

Men’s Water Polo

No. 11 Princeton6
No. 1 UCLA12

By Ricardo Garcia

Dec. 2, 2021 5:40 p.m.

The Bruins’ season will live another day.

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (20-3, 1-2 MPSF) defeated No. 11 Princeton (26-8, 8-2 NWPC) by a score of 12-6 at Spieker Aquatics Center on Thursday to advance to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. The Bruins improved to 16-0 all-time against the Tigers and will meet No. 3 California for the third time this season Saturday. 

UCLA began the afternoon on a 3-0 run over the first six minutes of the game, contributing to a 4-1 lead by the end of the first quarter. After a 3-2 Tiger run spanning five minutes cut into the Bruins’ lead, the blue and gold finished the half on a 4-1 run of its own to take a 9-4 lead into halftime. 

“We came out with some pretty good energy,” said coach Adam Wright. “Princeton moves extremely well, but they could have had three, four more goals easily tonight.”

Junior attacker Tommy Gruwell, who shot 3-of-12 over his last two games, had a first-half hat trick on 3-of-4 shooting to lead UCLA in scoring. 

“We’re just taking what they’re giving us,” Gruwell said. “We had a good attack in the first half, which made it easy for scoring opportunities.” 

The Bruins scored again in the opening minute of the second half but failed to score in the final seven minutes of the third quarter. Princeton endured a seven-minute scoring drought spanning the second and third quarters before adding their lone goal of the third with less than two minutes left.

The Bruins and Tigers endured more than five straight minutes of scoreless play in the frame, resulting in a 10-5 lead for the host team heading into the final quarter. 

Wright said his team missed some scoring opportunities and turned the ball over too often during the period.

“We missed some early ball opportunities to our centers,” Wright said. “Our passing in the second half was not good at all. A lot of those turnovers are going to be free goals.”

With the win, UCLA will take on Cal in a semifinal Saturday, after the Golden Bears earned an opening-round bye in the tournament.

“They have a lot of really dynamic players,” Wright said. “(Nikolaos) Papanikolaou – what he’s doing in the middle of the pool is truly special. They have great defenders, they have outside players that move really well, they have shooters in every position, so we know we’re going to have to be really good in our defense. 

Since last season, the Bruins have gone 1-5 against their Northern California rivals, including going winless against the Golden Bears in the 2021 season. Cal handed UCLA a seven-goal loss to end the regular season, the worst defeat of the season for the blue and gold and largest since a six-goal loss to Stanford in 2019. 

Junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi, who recorded five saves in three quarters of action, said his team needs to believe in its system to beat the Golden Bears on Saturday. 

“We need to play as a team,” Maurizi said. “It just matters who wants it more, who’s willing to commit to the small details, and that will be the team that will be successful.”

First sprint between the Bruins and Golden Bears is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday with a championship berth on the line.

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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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