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UCLA men’s water polo exits NCAA tournament with failed comeback against USC

Members of No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo groups around their teammates in the pool at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. The Bruins fell to No. 1 USC for the second time in as many weeks at the NCAA tournament semifinals Saturday. (Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)

Men’s Water Polo

No. 3 UCLA12
No. 1 USC15

By Ricardo Garcia

Dec. 3, 2022 6:35 p.m.

On a cold and wet afternoon in the Bay Area, the Bruins’ season came to a close. 

No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (22-5, 2-1 MPSF) fell to No. 1 USC (20-6, 1-2) in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament by a score of 15-12. After winning the first three regular-season contests between the crosstown rivals, the Bruins lost their second consecutive postseason matchup against the Trojans and four of seven to end the season.

“I don’t think any of us saw that coming,” said coach Adam Wright. “It wasn’t for lack of wanting, these guys wanted it.”

In a near repeat of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament semifinals, the blue and gold found itself down 5-2 for the second time in as many weeks. The Trojans opened the match with a pair of goals before the Bruins fought back to tie the game at 2-2. However, a 3-0 run by USC gave it the advantage after the opening stanza.

Wright said UCLA created opportunities for itself early on but moved away from its typical playstyle. 

Unlike the previous meeting, UCLA kept pace with its crosstown rivals in the second quarter, with both teams scoring twice, leading to a 7-4 USC halftime lead. 

After scoring the opening goal of the second half to trim the deficit to 7-5, the Bruins then allowed a 5-0 run – including an empty net goal – leading to their largest deficit since trailing by five against the Trojans two weeks ago. Both teams would then score twice, giving USC a 14-9 lead entering the final eight minutes.

Although the Bruins would outscore the Trojans 3-1 in the fourth stanza, it wasn’t enough, as UCLA lost its third consecutive game.

“It’s tough to finish the year with this game cause there’s a lot of regret,” said redshirt sophomore attacker Gianpiero Di Martire. “We’re everything, but we’re not the group that was in the water today, and that’s probably the most painful part.” 

Graduate student attacker/utility Jake Cavano and junior attacker Makoto Kenney each scored a hat trick for the Bruins, but it wasn’t enough to offset the five goals scored by Trojan driver Massimo Di Martire. After recording 15 saves at the MPSF tournament third-place game, senior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi picked up just two Saturday, the fewest he has recorded in a game in which he went the distance this season. 

The 15-12 loss was the blue and gold’s largest against its crosstown rivals since 2020. The Bruins also went one-and-done in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016, which was also played in Berkeley. 

Senior center Gabe Discipulo, part of a group of 10 seniors departing from the program, said the graduating class had things to be proud of. 

“Ending it like this is not how I would like to end it,” Discipulo said. “But if you look at the body of work this group has done, I think there’s some stuff to be proud of.”

With UCLA’s season coming to a close, USC will take on No. 2 California in a rematch of last season’s national championship game.

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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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