UCLA men’s water polo ends conference play with 3rd straight victory over USC
Redshirt sophomore attacker Gianpiero Di Martire protects the ball against a USC defender. Di Martire scored three consecutive goals to send the game to overtime. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)
Men's Water Polo
|No. 3 USC||13|
|No. 2 UCLA||14|
By Cole Lizar
Nov. 12, 2022 2:25 p.m.
Down three goals with 1:19 remaining on the clock, the Bruins’ fate appeared to be sealed.
Then redshirt sophomore attacker Gianpiero Di Martire dented the twine on three consecutive possessions in the final 1:05 of the game to force overtime.
No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (21-2, 2-1 MPSF) bested No. 3 USC (15-6, 1-2) by a final score of 14-13 at Spieker Aquatics Center on Friday in the blue and gold’s first overtime win of the season.
After Di Martire’s final goal – a redirection behind his head with three seconds left in regulation – both teams failed to find the back of the net through the entirety of the first overtime. They were both held scoreless through most of the second overtime as well, until graduate student attacker/utility Jake Cavano converted a counterattack opportunity with a familiar number remaining on the clock.
Di Martire said his teammates turned to him to score the final goal of regulation, and he happily accepted the opportunity.
“We have a lot of plays to play at the end of the game,” Di Martire said. “That (final play of regulation) was one of them. During the timeout, everyone was looking at me like they wanted me to run that play. I was very excited, but it was nothing different than the plays we practice every week.”
The lead bounced back and forth five times over the course of the game, leading to nine ties, with the largest lead for either side coming in the fourth quarter. The Trojans went on a 5-1 run to turn a one-goal deficit into a three-goal lead.
Coach Adam Wright said the team’s defense started to slip at a crucial moment, leading to a difficult point deficit in the final moments of the game.
“I liked that we really stayed the course, but we’re always going to make mistakes,” Wright said. “In the third quarter or even in the fourth quarter, we had some six-on-fives that we rushed, … which made things tougher for us.”
Over the rivals’ past two matchups, USC driver Massimo Di Martire, the team’s leading scorer and brother of Gianpiero Di Martire, has proven to be a challenge for UCLA’s defense, with a combined five points over both games. He led the Trojans with four goals Friday despite being ejected from the game in the fourth quarter.
Wright said Massimo Di Martire presents a unique challenge on defense, because of his versatility.
“He’s played at an especially high level for a long time,” Wright said. “It’s really hard to defend him because he doesn’t need much space. When he scored his first goal, (sophomore attacker Chase) Dodd was on top of him and he still scored. He can shoot every which way. He can shoot around a block and lob the ball. … He’s also an incredible passer.”
The Bruins’ leading scorer, Cavano, was not as active on the scoresheet as Massimo Di Martire but added the Bruins’ final tally to the board in the last three seconds of the game.
Cavano said his plan was not to score the game-winner, but he trusted his gut when he saw an open look at the back of the net.
“I was looking to pass,” Cavano said. “Once my guy left towards him (Gianpiero Di Martire), I thought, ‘Okay, well, I’ll go and pop the ball up and swim down the pool.’ Then I drew a foul on Ash (USC attacker Ashworth Molthen). I didn’t really like the look, but when I moved a little center I got another foul, and I saw my opening.”
The Bruins have gone undefeated in all three matchups against the Trojans this year, with Friday’s win securing UCLA the No. 3 seed in the MPSF tournament.
Cavano said the Bruins took a chance at the end of regulation with hopes to send the game to overtime.
“We took a risk by going 7-on-6,” Cavano said. “That was why we were able to be open. We were up a man, but it ended up being a good risk to take.”