UCLA Men's Water Polo
2015 NCAA Tournament Semifinal
Opponent: #10 UC San Diego (15-13)
When: 4:00 PM PST, Saturday, December 5, 2015
Where: Spieker Aquatics Center, Los Angeles, CA
Video: NCAA Live Video
Live Stats: The Fosh
It's been nearly two weeks since the Bruins claimed the MPSF Tournament title with a 12-11 double-overtime win over California. The win extended the defending national champions winning streak to 31 games, a streak that began in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
It's been an amazing season for the Bruins. They began the season as the nation's top-ranked team and have never relinquished their grip on the top spot. They are a perfect 28-0 in 2015. They are winners of the MPSF conference title and the MPSF Tournament title. They won both the Kap7 SoCal Invitational and the NorCal Invitational this year. Over half of their wins are against top-10 teams. Over a third of their wins are against top-5 teams. This team exemplifies the pursuit of excellence.
However, as far as the Bruins are concerned, all of that is meaningless unless they can win two more games. They have a national title to defend. The title defense begins today against the Tritons.
UCLA and UCSD have already met once this season. In the second week of September at the UCLA Invitational, the Bruins blitzed the Tritons, 18-6. Garrett Danner only played the first two quarters and a bit of the third before being replaced by freshman Alex Wolf. And after taking an 11-3 halftime lead, a lot of UCLA's bench players enjoyed considerable time in the pool. Of course, that was nearly three months ago, in a competition of little consequence. Nevertheless, it's indicative of the talent gap between the two squads.
Perhaps the greatest concern today is UCLA's readiness to play in an NCAA semifinal after two weeks without competitive water polo. It's unlikely to matter much today, but looking ahead to the final, it's reasonable to wonder how Coach Wright can best prepare his squad to face one of the best teams in the country tomorrow. California faces USC in the second semifinal today, so the Bruins are guaranteed to play a really tough, thoroughly prepared team in the final. It will be interesting to see how Coach Wright balances the need to keep his starters fresh against the urge to sharpen them as much as possible in their only competitive action in the past two weeks.
That said, the Bruins' depth has impressed me all season, so I'm confident that UCLA's intra-squad scrimmages are pretty competitive. It's not the same as playing in the NCAA Tournament, though. On the other hand, a lot of this year's starters featured in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, so lack of big game experience isn't an issue.
Having followed this team all season, I don't think the Tritons have even the slightest chance of an upset today. I don't know if UCLA will win by more than 10, but this semifinal won't be close. I am absolutely confident that the Bruins will be playing for a second straight national championship tomorrow.