Opponent: Oregon State (5-3-0, 0-0-0)
When: 1:30 PM PT, Friday, October 2, 2015
Where: Paul Lorentz Field, Corvallis, OR
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: Oregon State StatBroadcast
If the Bruins' objective is exciting, entertaining soccer, then last week was a huge success for the UCLA men's soccer program. UCLA fought back from an early deficit to defeat VCU 2-1 on Friday, and then followed that with a 10-man comeback from three goals down against UC Irvine to win 4-3 in overtime. Entertaining soccer? Definitely. Well-played soccer? Not so much.
Don't get me wrong. Last week UCLA frequently looked very sharp going forward. The Bruins are starting to become more incisive in attack, and the degree of creativity in opening up the opposition defense is on the rise. It's lovely soccer to watch, and two players--Seyi Adekoya and Jose Hernandez--have turned in some brilliant performances recently. Freshman Jackson Yueill has also proven to be a terrific addition to the squad. That said, the Bruins' defense continues to be about as sturdy as tissue paper.
Let me take a moment to put UCLA's defensive woes into context. The Bruins have surrendered 16 goals in their first 8 games, ranking UCLA 176th out of 202 collegiate teams. As a point of reference, last year's squad conceded one goal per game on average, and that team wasn't particularly strong defensively. So the fact that this year's team--featuring all but two of the starters from the previous year's team--is leaking goals at twice the rate is both puzzling and disturbing.
UCLA's defensive fragility is not a new problem. I wrote about it last season, and I've written about it many times this year. As I've mentioned in the past, four moderately talented defenders can form a very effective defensive shield if they are well-organized, disciplined, and determined. There is no doubt that UCLA has defenders that are more than "moderately talented," so it's difficult to understand why this long-standing problem hasn't already been addressed by Coach Salcedo and his staff.
I like Coach Salcedo and I'm anxious to see him succeed at UCLA. He's proven himself to be an outstanding recruiter, but many fans question his ability to coach. The fact that the Bruins continue to struggle defensively reinforces doubts about Coach Salcedo's ability to lead UCLA to a national championship, and this season, to even a Pac-12 title.
With the incredible firepower the Bruins have up front, they can probably go a long way if they can halve their goals against average from here on out. That will only happen if Coach Salcedo and his staff can get the back four to play as a unit instead of as four individuals, and it will require one of the defenders to step up and become a leader. Talent alone isn't enough--teamwork needs to be the basis for developing defensive toughness and consistency.
UCLA is fortunate to get Oregon State for its Pac-12 opener. The Beavers have lost three straight, and have yet to play a top-20 team. Moreover, Oregon State isn't a particularly strong team in attack, so even UCLA's porous defense should be able to hold the Beavers to a goal (or less). Therefore, there's every reason to expect the Bruins to extend their winning streak to three games today before heading to Seattle for a showdown with the 15th-ranked Huskies on Sunday.
Men's Water Polo
Opponent: #9 Pepperdine (6-5, 0-0)
When: 4:00 PM PT, Friday, October 2, 2015
Where: Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool, Malibu, CA
Live Stats: None
Official Match Preview | Match Notes (Not Available at the official site--You're doing a heck of a job, Dan!)
UCLA Men's Water Polo--the reigning national champions--opens MPSF competition today with an afternoon match against the #9 Waves in Malibu. The Bruins (11-0) remain the top-ranked team in the nation after picking up a pair of wins last week to extend their perfect start to the 2015 campaign.
The drop-off between #1 and #9 in collegiate water polo is significantly sharper than in most other sports. While Pepperdine is a very good team, the likelihood of an upset against the Bruins is remote. When the Bruins and the Waves met two weeks ago at the NorCal Invitational (at a neutral site), UCLA led 9-3 at the end of the third quarter, and eventually won the match 12-6 with Coach Wright giving generous pool time to his bench players in the final frame.
The fact that the Bruins have picked up right where they left off last year is a credit to the fantastic work of Coach Wright and his staff as well as a tremendously talented group of student-athletes. The depth of the squad has been evident many times during the non-conference portion of the schedule as Coach Wright has repeatedly given starts and significant playing time to UCLA's bench players. The future of UCLA Men's Water Polo looks very bright.
Given the strength and experience of the Bruins, I will be stunned if the Bruins fail to win comfortably against Pepperdine today.
Opponent: #5 Washington (12-0, 2-0)
When: 8:00 PM PT, Friday, October 2, 2015
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
The Bruins (10-2, 1-1) enter tonight's match against the Huskies as the 11th-ranked team in the nation. After a dreadful performance against Loyola Marymount in the second game of the season, the Bruins enjoyed a strong run through the remainder of their non-conference schedule before hitting a roadblock in their Pac-12 opener against #2 Southern Cal.
UCLA bounced back on the weekend with a sweep of Cal, though I have to say, the Bruins weren't impressive against the mediocre Golden Bears. Nevertheless, UCLA climbed two spots in the AVCA Coaches poll this week and now sit just outside the national top-10. That high ranking surely indicates that the Bruins should be able to compete for the Pac-12 title, right?
I'm not so sure. The Bruins weren't competitive against Southern Cal last week, and if they're thumped by #5 Washington tonight, it will suggest that UCLA will probably being competing for fifth place in the conference, thereby making the Bruins an average Pac-12 team.
At the moment there are four Pac-12 teams in the national top-10. Like UCLA, Arizona is close, but looks more like a second tier Pac-12 team than a contender for the conference crown. This is the problem for the Bruins: unless UCLA can be competitive with the Pac-12 elite (USC, Washington, Stanford, Arizona State), the Bruin will be regarded as second-tier--good enough to make the NCAA tournament, but not good enough to finish within a couple of games of first place.
Perceptions are shaped by expectations, of course, which means that if being a top-20 team and qualifying for the NCAA tournament is your measure of success for UCLA Women's Volleyball, then this season's team is off to a strong start. On the other hand, if you expect UCLA to have one of the nation's elite women's volleyball programs, then the Bruins have to be able to knock off teams like Washington, Southern Cal and Stanford.
Beating Washington (12-0, 2-0) will not be an easy task. The Huskies are incredibly strong at the net, leading the nation in hitting percentage (.361), and in opponent hitting percentage (.107). The sophomore duo of Courtney Schwan and Tia Scambray gives Washington a nicely balanced, highly effective attack, and senior Cassie Strickland marshals a well-organized defense. The Bruins will have to really grind to ratchet up pressure on Washington's back row. That means UCLA will need to emphasize smart, opportunistic hitting, aggressive serving, and scrambling defense.
Even if the Bruins can't defeat the Huskies, they need to find a way to win at least one set. UCLA needs to develop the belief that it can compete with truly elite teams. Tonight the Bruins will get the chance to do just that.