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For 1st time since NCAA tournament elimination, UCLA men’s water polo to face Cal

Redshirt freshman center Grant Loth reaches out to defend against an attacking UC San Diego player. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Water Polo

No. 2 California
Saturday, 1 p.m.

Spieker Aquatics Center
Pac-12 Networks

By Cole Lizar

Oct. 28, 2022 11:02 a.m.

The Bruins will have the chance to get revenge against the opponent that ended their season last year.

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (19-1, 1-0 MPSF) will host No. 2 California (16-1, 1-0) on Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Center in what marks the first matchup between the two teams since the 2021 NCAA tournament semifinals.

In the final game of the season for the Bruins last year, they lost to the Golden Bears at home in overtime 15-13. Almost half of Cal’s goals came from the hand of attacker Max Casabella.

UCLA enters the weekend on the heels of a 2-0 week after capturing wins over both UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis. The Bruins’ efforts were backed by pivotal goals from redshirt freshman center Grant Loth, which earned him Mountain Pacific Sports Federation West/S&R Sport Newcomer of the Week honors.

Loth said the team’s biggest focus in preparing for its game against Cal has been fine-tuning its defensive strategy.

“Defense is the most important factor. That’s what wins championships,” Loth said. “Every little detail matters in defense for us, and he’s (coach Adam Wright’s) been keying in on our little details and making sure they’re correct.”

The Bruins hold a 90-74-1 all-time record over the Golden Bears but have struggled against their Northern California rivals over the past few years. UCLA has not beaten Cal since the 2020-2021 season, including losses in their past five matchups.

Wright said the team anticipates a battle at set against Cal center Nikolaos Papanikolaou.

“They have a player in the middle of the pool that absolutely changes the dynamic of the game,” Wright said. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities to work on defending that. … I like the versatility that we can employ defensively. But when you have a player like that in the middle, … it’s a high-octane offense, high-scoring offense.”

Despite the ultimate outcome of its last game against Cal, UCLA was able to keep the score close throughout the game with the help of 16 saves by then-junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi.

Junior attacker Makoto Kenney said the team needs to make an effort to help keep the ball away from the goal through field blocks, especially when playing an offense as talented as Cal.

“There’s definitely a huge emphasis on shot blocking,” Kenney said. “They’re a really good offensive team. We just have to make sure we get some hands on the balls.”

Wright said the team is going to have to step up its game Saturday to beat Cal but is up for the challenge.

“They have excellent shooters in every position,” Wright said. “They have a guy in the middle of the pool that demands a lot of attention, and the bottom line is that we’re just going to have to play a different level of defense.”

The Bruins’ opening sprint against the Golden Bears is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. at Spieker Aquatics Center.

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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.
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