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UCLA women’s water polo crashes against Cardinal in MPSF semifinals loss

Senior attacker Val Ayala passes the ball. A first-half rally kept No. 3 seed UCLA women’s water polo afloat, but the blue and gold couldn’t overcome No. 2 seed Stanford on Saturday. (Finn Chitwood/Daily Bruin)

Women’s Water Polo

No. 3 seed UCLA7
No. 2 seed Stanford13

By Ricardo Garcia

April 23, 2022 2:28 p.m.

This post was updated April 23 at 3:48 p.m.

For the fourth straight conference tournament, the Bruins will be playing for third place.

No. 3 seed UCLA women’s water polo (23-4, 4-2 MPSF) was defeated by No. 2 seed Stanford (21-2, 5-1) by a score of 13-7 in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament on Saturday. The loss was the Bruins’ third straight against the Cardinal this season and the largest against any team. 

“At this juncture, when we play Stanford, we play scared,” said coach Adam Wright. “We got to find a way to put them (the team) in a situation that they can be present (and) have confidence to shoot.”

After the Cardinal rattled off the first four goals of the game, including two converted penalty shots, senior center Ava Johnson put the Bruins on the board with 21 seconds left in the first quarter. 

Johnson said UCLA treats Stanford differently than other opponents.

“Mentally, we go to a weaker state every time we face them,” Johnson said. “There’s no reason we should go into the game scared of them – there’s nothing to be scared of.”

Johnson continued her scoring binge in the second quarter, adding three more goals in a span of about four minutes to cut Stanford’s lead to 5-4. The Bruins and Cardinal traded goals in the final 5 and 1/2 minutes as UCLA trailed 7-5 at halftime. 

But with the lead back in sight, the Bruins mustered one goal on eight shot attempts in the third quarter, as senior utility Katrina Drake put away UCLA’s lone goal of the quarter. 

Stanford put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, scoring the first two goals of the period to make it a five-goal deficit for UCLA. In contrast, the Bruins scored two goals in the final 16 minutes of the game. The Bruins finished shooting 7-of-26 from the field, including 2-of-14 on the power play. 

Redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman, named MPSF Player of the Year earlier in the week, was held scoreless by the Stanford defense after attempting two shots over the course of the game. Musselman poured in five goals in a first-round matchup against No. 6 seed Indiana on Friday.

With the loss, the Bruins have fallen 2-10 against the Cardinal since Wright took over the women’s program in 2018, with both UCLA wins coming during the 2021 season. 

Redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips, named All-MPSF Second Team earlier in the week, said the Bruins can’t be afraid to put pressure on their opposition.

“We came in with a lot of energy, but we’re a little bit unfocused,” Phillips said. “We need to focus on ourselves and what we’ve been working on all season.”

The Bruins will close out the MPSF tournament in the third-place game Sunday, taking on No. 4 seed California. The Bruins won their only matchup this season against the Golden Bears 9-8 in Berkeley.

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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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