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UCLA men’s water polo stumbles with double overtime loss to Cal

Redshirt junior attacker Jack Larsen rises out of the water with the ball. Larsen scored a pair of goals in the Bruins’ loss to the Golden Bears on Saturday. (Esther Ma/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Water Polo

No. 2 California10
No. 1 UCLA9

By Cole Lizar

Oct. 30, 2022 1:13 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 30 at 9:50 p.m.

The Bruins never trailed during regulation, but still left the pool with their second loss of the season.

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (19-2, 1-1 MPSF) lost to No. 2 California (17-1, 2-0) in double overtime by a score of 10-9 at Spieker Aquatics Center.

UCLA scored the first goal of the game less than two minutes into the contest and maintained its lead until the final 20 seconds of regulation. But with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Cal attacker Max Casabella evened the score at eight apiece to force overtime.

The Bruins earned a penalty shot in overtime, but were unable to convert the point. Redshirt junior attacker Jack Larsen said the missed five-meter shot had the potential to tie the game, but ultimately did not make or break the Bruins’ chance to win.

“I honestly don’t think it (the loss) comes down to … one guy missing a shot,” Larsen said. “It’s an accumulation of all the mistakes we made: not executing plays and finishing six-on-five attempts. … Obviously, it (a converted five-meter shot) would have been nice, but it’s not the end of the world when that happens.”

The blue and gold opened the game with a strong start – ending the first quarter with a 3-0 lead. In the second stanza, the Bruins allowed five goals but still managed to enter halftime with a single-point lead.

UCLA’s defensive efforts were focused on former Cutino Award winner and NCAA championship MVP Nikolaos Papanikolaou. The Bruins’ zone defense was able to hold the center to two goals over six periods. However, Papanikolaou’s second point ultimately won the game for the Golden Bears in the second overtime.

Coach Adam Wright said Papanikolaou is one of the best centers to ever play college water polo, making Cal a unique challenge for the Bruins’ defense.

“I’m hard-pressed to say that he’s probably the best center we’ve seen in the last 20 years in the collegiate game,” Wright said. “With his ability to feel the water and feel the ball, he can shoot a ball that’s coming at him 40 miles an hour by redirecting it. He can turn left or turn right. He’s a special player.”

Since Papanikolaou joined Cal in 2019, UCLA has gone 3-7 against its Northern California rival, including losses in the past six matchups. The Bruins have now lost in overtime five times over the past three seasons against the Golden Bears.

With Papanikolaou in the middle of the pool, the blue and gold opted to run a zone defense. This defensive tactic led the Bruins to rely on field blocks to stop the Golden Bears’ perimeter shooters and put more pressure on senior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi, who racked up 15 saves on the afternoon.

Wright said Maurizi’s impact on the game was immeasurable.

“It’s hard to explain how hard that is for a goalie,” Wright said. “Right out the gate, people on the perimeter have no pressure and shoot the ball as much as they want. … We helped him out in the first half. But for him to hold off that attack for four quarters, that’s beyond a difficult task, and he put us in a position to have a chance at the end to win.”

Cal’s offensive attack was relatively balanced throughout the game – scoring five points before halftime and five after. The Bruins, on the other hand, scored six points before halftime and just three points in the remaining four stanzas of the game.

Maurizi said the ultimate result of the game was disappointing, but he loves having the opportunity to push his skills to the limit against elite opponents.

“I take this as a challenge,” Maurizi said. “As an athlete, you want to be challenged. In a defense like this, if the goalie can’t block the ball, it’s going to be a long day for the team. I want that challenge.”

The Bruins return to the pool next Saturday at noon to play Loyola Marymount.

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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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