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The Quest for #113: UCLA Men's Water Polo vs. Southern Cal

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The defending national champions meet the Trojans in the NCAA Tournament Championship game for the second straight year with the Bruins hoping to give their perfect season the perfect ending: national championship #113.

@UCLAAthletics

UCLA Men's Water Polo

2015 NCAA Tournament Championship Game

Opponent: Southern Cal (22-6)

When: 6:12 PM PST, Sunday, December 6, 2015

Where: Spieker Aquatics Center, Los Angeles, CA

Audio: None

Video: NCAA Live Video

Live StatsThe Fosh

UCLA Tournament Preview | (UCLA hasn't prepared a match preview)

NCAA Tournament Bracket

Déjà vu, anyone? Last year, on the first Sunday in December, UCLA Men's Water Polo was playing for the national championship against Southern Cal. As the top-seed in the tournament, the Bruins faced UC San Diego in the tournament's first semifinal and won comfortably to advance to the title game

The other semifinal featured USC and Stanford. This is what I wrote last year about the Trojans:

In my opinion, the Trojans are a tad lucky to be in the tournament this season. After finishing third in the conference and fourth in the MPSF tournament, the Trojans had to depend on the generosity of the selection committee.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This season, Southern Cal finished fourth in the MPSF--two full games behind Pacific--but by virtue of beating Pacific in the MPSF Tournament consolation game, the Trojans were once again gifted an NCAA Tournament berth. And just as it played out last season, Southern Cal won its play-in game before pulling off an upset in its semifinal against a higher-ranked MPSF foe. Last year it was Stanford that fell to USC in the semis, and this year it was Cal, but the Trojans' path to the 2015 NCAA Tournament Final is almost identical to the path it traveled in 2014.

For the second straight season, UCLA (29-0) and USC (22-6) will play for the men's water polo national championship. But remarkably, both squads are substantially changed from 2014. The Bruins are without Cristiano Mirarchi, Daniel Lenhart and Paul Reynolds, among others. The Trojans are without Kostas Genidounias, Rex Butler, and Marc Vonderweidt.

At the same time, both squads are packed with players with national championship experience. In last year's final, UCLA got goals from Chancellor Ramirez, Matt Farmer, Daniel McClintick, Jack Fellner, and Gordon Marshall. All are back for the 2015 Final. So is goalkeeper Garrett Danner. So is Ryder Roberts, the Bruins' leading scorer in 2015. So is defender Anthony Daboub. When the Bruins take to the pool today against the Trojans, most of the players will have been in this position before. And given how often UCLA and USC have already squared off this season, there aren't likely to be many surprises today.

The Bruins Crush the Tritons to Advance to the NCAA Championship Game

Prior to yesterday's semifinal against UCSD, I wondered if the Tritons would give the Bruins the warmup match they needed after a nearly two-week layoff. I don't know the answer to that question, in part because UCLA made yesterday's 17-4 victory look so easy.

Actually, to be accurate, the Bruins made yesterday's victory look easy in the final three quarters. In the first quarter, UCLA looked tight, and the offense seemed a bit stagnant early on.

Ryder Roberts scored the opening goal of the semifinal just two minutes into the first quarter, and Patrick Fellner doubled the Bruins' lead about 40 seconds later. But that was all the scoring that UCLA could produce in the first frame. After the Tritons scored toward the end of the first quarter, the Bruins took a slender 2-1 lead into the second quarter.

The Bruins' attack exploded in the second quarter with five unanswered goals in the first five minutes. An Anthony Daboub goal was followed by goals from Daniel McClintick, Alex Roelse, Max Irving, and McClintick again. After conceding a second Triton goal, UCLA closed out the half with goals from Fellner and Chancellor Ramirez.

With a 9-2 lead coming out of halftime, Coach Adam Wright began to use a deeper rotation, but the results were the same. A goal from Matt Farmer and a pair of goals from both Alex Roelse extended UCLA's lead to 12-2. McClintick found the back of the net a minute later for his third of the game, and Irving scored his second a few minutes later to hand UCLA a 14-2 advantage. When UCSD scored at the end of the third, the Bruins led 14-3 going to the final frame.

The Bruins added three more in the fourth quarter through Roelse, Farmer, and freshman Spencer Farrar. Freshman goalkeeper Alex Wolf conceded UCSD's fourth goal in relief of Garrett Danner.

Garrett Danner finished with 19 saves in three quarters of action, and Alex Wolf collected 6 saves in the fourth quarter. Alex Roelse led the Bruins in scoring with four goals. Daniel McClintick recorded a hat trick, and three Bruins--Max Irving, Matt Farmer, and Patrick Fellner--scored a brace.

Last year, a semifinal warmup victory against the Tritons was good enough preparation for the final. Let's hope the same is true this time around.

For more photos from Saturday's semifinal victory over UC San Diego, check out Quest to 113.

Scouting the Trojans

The Trojans will be appearing in their 11th straight NCAA Championship game today. Moreover, USC has won seven of the ten previous championships, so there's no doubt that the Trojans will be in familiar territory this evening.

Yesterday, the Trojans bounced the Golden Bears from the tournament with a 9-6 upset. Over at Southern Cal's official site, the headline accurately describes USC's approach to their battle with Cal: "USC Shoves Past Cal To Punch Ticket To 11th Straight NCAA Title Match." It was a very physical game in which the Trojans successfully neutralized Cal's speed advantage with a lot of extracurricular, physical play. The Golden Bears were awarded three 5-meter penalties and missed two. Cal was also awarded 13 power play opportunities and converted just three. Expect similar tactics from the Trojans today, especially if the Bruins fail to convert in man-advantage situations.

The Trojans are a high-scoring team, or as I prefer to say, a very offensive team. USC averaged 14 goals per game in 2015 to rank second in the conference. Junior Blake Edwards paces the Southern Cal attack, averaging 2.42 goals/game. Sophomore Grant Stein is particularly dangerous as well; he averages 1.58 goals/game.

Sophomores Lachlan Edwards and Matteo Morelli and junior Nick Bell are also key contributors in attack. Against Cal, Bell and Morelli each scored a brace, and Lachlan Edwards added a goal of his own.

However, the star of the Trojans' upset of Cal was sophomore goalkeeper Baron McQuin. McQuin registered 19 saves yesterday and made crucial stops whenever Cal threatened to make a run. Although McQuin enters today's final in fantastic form, he's been excellent throughout the season, finishing second in only to Garrett Danner in goals against average in the MPSF.

If the MPSF Conference handed out an annual award for Biggest Whiner, USC's head coach Jovan Vavic would be the perennial winner. However, there's no denying that he's built a very successful program, and his 12 national coach of the year awards attest to the fact that he's tactically adroit.

The Bruins vs. the Trojans in 2015

UCLA and USC have already battled three times this season. The first meeting was back in early October in the final of the Kap7 SoCal Invitational. The Bruins edged the Trojans 10-9 that day with four goals apiece from Ryder Roberts and Anthony Daboub,

The second game between UCLA and SC was the regular season finale for both squads. At Spieker Aquatics Center, the Bruins thrashed the Trojans 11-6 behind a Ryder Roberts hat trick and a 19 save performance from Garrett Danner.

The third meeting occurred two weeks ago in the MPSF Tournament semifinals. UCLA's defense absolutely smothered Southern Cal's attack, and the Bruins were ahead 6-1 after three quarters. UCLA held on to win 6-3, with Daniel McClintick leading the Bruins' attack with a hat trick.

The Bruins are three out of three against the Trojans in 2015. Considering the trend in these matches and based on the way the USC-Cal game played out yesterday, it seems likely that today's contest will be low-scoring.

Final Thoughts

This has been a dream season for Coach Adam Wright's Bruins. They are undefeated. They are the MPSF regular season champions. They are the MPSF Tournament champions. They are winners of both the Kap7 NorCal Tournament and the Kap7 SoCal Tournament. They have been the top-ranked team throughout the season. But none of that matters unless UCLA can defend its national championship. One more win is all they need. The Bruins have #113 in their sights.

Go BRUINS! Win #113!