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Men’s water polo 2022 NCAA tournament predictions

No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo huddles around coach Adam Wright during a game. The Bruins will make a run at a national championship starting Saturday in Berkeley. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

By Ava Abrishamchian, Joseph Crosby, Ricardo Garcia, and Cole Lizar

Dec. 2, 2022 2:41 p.m.

Joseph Crosby
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: NCAA champion

The Bruins are coming off their worst stretch of games of the season.

At the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament semifinals, they allowed eight first-half goals against USC en route to a one-goal loss.

Then, in the third-place match, they scored a season-low six goals in the loss to California, half of which came from redshirt sophomore attacker Gianpiero Di Martire.

But you can’t have a rainbow without the rain.

The Bruins are fully capable of defeating the Trojans and the Golden Bears. They beat the former three times before losing by one at the conference tournament and held the latter to a season-low seven goals the next day.

UCLA even led Cal through three quarters in their first matchup during the regular season.

But it certainly won’t be a cakewalk. USC won the MPSF tournament for a reason, and a star-studded Cal roster has spent a considerable amount of time at the top of the national rankings.

UCLA will have learned from its early postseason mistakes and will draw on what worked for it in the regular season, leading to a fourth victory over its crosstown rival to set up a rematch against Cal, who only has to get through Pacific to reach the championship game.

So while it may be forecasted to rain Sunday in Berkeley, the Bruins will be making their own rainbow when they claim their fifth NCAA title under coach Adam Wright.

Ricardo Garcia
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: NCAA runner-up

There’s a big problem standing between UCLA and its second title in three years.

It’s the same problem that ended its season a year ago.

The Golden Bears have been a thorn in the Bruins’ side for three seasons now. They handed the blue and gold arguably its most gut-wrenching loss since last season’s NCAA semifinal, a 10-9 double overtime loss in which the Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead and led 8-6 entering the fourth quarter.

UCLA just hasn’t been able to shake off Cal, even if the blue and gold find a way to put itself in a position to win.

All it will take this year is one win to reach the national championship game, and it will take beating USC for the fourth time in five meetings this season. The Bruins are certainly capable of doing so.

Then it comes to handling a core of Golden Bear players that torched the Bruins in last season’s semifinal.

Attacker Max Casabella, center Nikolaos Papanikolaou, utility Jack Deely and attacker Roberto Valera combined for 24 points last December to lift the Golden Bears to an overtime win at Spieker Aquatics Center. On the other end of the pool, goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg recorded eight saves. What’s unfair is that all of them returned this season, and all of them could return again next season. It has set Cal up for a run of sustained success, which UCLA is hard-pressed to stop.

Unfortunately, this year might not be the year. For as long as Cal has that core around, it’ll be a pain for UCLA to deal with. This time will be no different.

Cole Lizar
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: NCAA champion

Batman has the Joker, David had Goliath, and the Bruins have the Golden Bears.

UCLA has lost seven straight matchups against its Northern California rival, including the game that ended its championship run last year. Because of the structure of the tournament, UCLA cannot see Cal until the championship game, meaning both teams would have to advance past the semifinals for a rematch to occur.

The Golden Bears have dominated the Bruins over the past three seasons, but they are not unstoppable, with two losses to Stanford on the season.

Cal arguably has the easiest road to a title, as it is undefeated this season against all of its potential tournament opponents. UCLA, on the other hand, is entering the semifinals with losses in its past two games against its two likely tournament opponents.

The Trojans and the Bruins are set to see each other in the semifinals in their fifth matchup of the season. Considering UCLA has won 3-of-4 games against USC already, and only lost by one point in the sole loss, I predict they will win this matchup as well.

This brings us to the finals – one rematch to rule them all. The Bruins have the chance to avenge their losses against the Golden Bears and win when it matters most.

The Bruins have not lost to the Golden Bears by more than one goal this season. Barring disaster against the USC in the semifinals, title 120 is well within reach for UCLA.

Some might call it hopeless optimism, but I’ll call it trusting the process. I think UCLA will come home with the hardware this year.

Ava Abrishamchian
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: NCAA runner-up

UCLA men’s water polo has a secret weapon: its experience.

With 19 players returning from the 2020 national championship team, the high stakes of a championship game won’t be a problem.

However, experience isn’t all you need to win a championship.

Looking back at the Bruins’ season performance, there seems to be a missing ingredient to their style of play: consistency.

The Bruins started the season with a 13-game winning streak but fell short to Stanford by one goal. From the outside, it might look like the Bruins had a slight misstep in their game plan. But after producing another winning streak up until a loss against the Golden Bears, it looks like the Bruins struggle to win against another competitor with arguably the same caliber of play.

Despite its ability to pull out a double-overtime win against USC in its last regular season game only one week prior, UCLA fell to the Trojans at the MPSF tournament, losing 12-11. And in their third-place match, the Bruins faced the Golden Bears, and again, they fell short 7-6.

It’s now or never for the Bruins, and looking at their history with competitive teams, a national championship seems out of reach.

This past tournament showed me one thing: When the pressure is on, I’m not sure the Bruins can win. Entering the NCAA tournament, there are no more throw-away games, and there are no more opportunities to pick up next week and learn from their mistakes.

Even with players like senior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi and Di Martire, who had season-best or near-season-best games at the MPSF tournament, the Bruins will have to come out of the gate with force and maintain that momentum until the clock strikes 0:00. Truthfully, I’m not sure they can.

But a lot can happen in 32 minutes, and I have no problem being proven wrong.

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Ava Abrishamchian
Joseph Crosby | Sports editor
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
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.
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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