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Women’s water polo 2022 NCAA tournament predictions

No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo lines up facing the pool. The team will begin the 2022 NCAA tournament Friday, with a matchup against No. 1 seed Stanford likely on the horizon Saturday. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)

By Cole Lizar, Kyle Boal, and Ricardo Garcia

May 4, 2022 2:58 p.m.

No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo (23-5, 4-2 MPSF) is headed to Michigan to take on the 2022 NCAA tournament. The blue and gold is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament after losing two straight games. In the semifinal of the NCAA tournament, UCLA will likely match up with No. 1 seed Stanford (22-2, 5-1), who it has a 0-3 record against this season. Take a look at how far each of Daily Bruin Sports’ writers on the beat expects the Bruins to go.

Ricardo Garcia
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: NCAA semifinal

There are a couple of red flags with the Bruins that make me doubt their ability to go far.

One is when the coach tells me they have been playing scared for several weeks in a row in the final month of the season.

The other is when the coach and players say they get in their heads against a specific opponent – not to mention one that happens to be on the same side of the bracket as the blue and gold.

UCLA has played Stanford three times this season and lost all three of those games.

The common thread in the first two contests was that the Bruins had their chances to win but didn’t capitalize on opportunities. They were 2-of-13 and 3-of-12 in six-on-five situations in the pair of games. Converting even half of those totals changes the complexion of those games.

In the most recent meeting at the MPSF tournament, UCLA looked helpless. The Bruins fell down 4-0 in the opening minutes and only had a chance because of senior center Ava Johnson’s scoring surge. Alas, UCLA folded in the second half in what was arguably its worst loss of the season.

I would have felt slightly more confident about the blue and gold’s chances of at least returning to the title game had it ended up on USC’s side of the bracket. The Bruins and Trojans split both matchups this season, with UCLA triumphing at the Triton Invitational in February and remaining competitive against its crosstown rivals in the regular-season finale.

The Bruins should be able to beat the Anteaters in the quarterfinal, but given the way the team has played as of late, I am expecting this to be a lot closer than the first meeting, a six-goal blue and gold win in March.

UCLA’s fate against Stanford depends on which version of the team shows up to Ann Arbor, Michigan – the squad that looked like the best team in the nation through the first few weeks of the season, or the one that shows up afraid and beats itself with self-inflicted wounds.

I believe it’s the latter that shows up.

Kyle Boal
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: NCAA champions

Sometimes, I pick with my heart rather than my head.

Despite questionable NCAA seeding that placed UCLA men’s water polo on a collision course with California – against whom the Bruins had lost five of their last six – I picked the men’s squad to win the national championship to end 2021.

Fast forward a couple months, the women’s team finds itself in a similar situation. Barring the first loss in program history to UC Irvine, UCLA is on a collision course with Stanford, who the Bruins are just 2-10 against under coach Adam Wright.

To even get to the championship game, the Bruins must first defeat the Cardinal. Stanford is not invincible, as it has split a pair of games this season with California and gone 2-1 against USC.

UCLA entered the fourth quarter of the first match with Stanford tied before giving up a 4-1 final frame. After going down two goals in the opening half in the second meeting, the Bruins matched the Cardinal’s production in the second half.

Just like last time, if I had to put my tuition on it, I’ll take Stanford. But because I’m not, give me UCLA.

In all likelihood, USC will be waiting in the final at Michigan’s Canham Natatorium. If it’s UCLA who meets it there, last season’s massacre bestowed upon the Bruins by the Trojans in the NCAA final will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

UCLA defeated USC in the Trojan Invitational final earlier this year before losing a close matchup with its backup goalkeeper in the cage for Senior Day at Uytengsu Aquatics Center in April. The Bruins have undoubtedly shown an ability to overcome the Trojans this season, especially if a national championship is on the line.

With the momentum of conquering the Cardinal and memories of bitter defeat from a season ago on the footsteps of national glory, UCLA is poised to win it all with some semifinal success.

It’s now or never for the Bruins.

If adding MPSF Player of the Year and redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman to a team that played in the national championship a year ago is not enough for UCLA to win its first title since 2009, what will be?

Cole Lizar
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: NCAA championship

I think the Bruins will overcome one of their biggest adversaries this season but still fall short of national glory.

The blue and gold should not have much trouble in the first round. After the Bruins handily beat the Anteaters earlier in the season, Friday’s game should see a similar result.

In the semifinal, I anticipate UCLA will upset No. 1 seed Stanford. The Bruins have lost all three contests against the Cardinal this year, but I believe the blue and gold have the talent and motivation to win with the fate of its season on the line.

As the sun was setting on the regular season, the Bruins began to struggle. Including the MPSF tournament, they have now lost four of their past six games – with only five total losses on the season.

At the beginning of the year, UCLA felt unbeatable. But now, the Bruins seem to be a shell of the team they once were. I think the blue and gold will use this tough stretch of games as a wake-up call and draw up the motivation to perform to the best of its abilities in the tournament.

As much faith as I have in UCLA, I do not think it will bring home the hardware this year. The Bruins have made it to the NCAA championship game in four of the past seven tournaments but have lost every time.

In the finals, UCLA will likely see either No. 2 seed USC or No. 3 seed California. This season, the Bruins have won and lost to both teams.

I would like to watch NCAA trophy No. 120 come home to Westwood this weekend, but I think the Bruins will ultimately get in their heads and fall short in the biggest game of the season.

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Cole Lizar | Sports contributor
Lizar is currently a Sports contributor on the women's water polo beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's water polo beat.
Lizar is currently a Sports contributor on the women's water polo beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's water polo beat.
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.
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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