Opponent: #2 Stanford (24-2)
When: Sunday, May 10, 5:30 PM PDT
Where: Avery Aquatics Center, Palo Alto, CA
Watch Online: NCAA Live
Live Stats: The Fosh
This is the match that we've been waiting for all season. No. 1 versus No. 2. UCLA versus Stanford. The two best teams in the country will battle for the national title today. The Bruins have the opportunity to bring home #113.
The Bruins' last national title came in 2009. Since then, the Cardinal have won three titles. It's time for the Bruins to win an NCAA trophy again.
The Bruins Grind Out a Win over Cal
The Bruins were not at their best yesterday, but they were good enough to beat #4 California 9-5. And as the score indicates, the UCLA defense was effective as usual.
The first goal came halfway through the first quarter when Alys Williams collected a pass from Kodi Hill and bounced her shot into the back of the net. The Bruins doubled their lead near the end of the quarter. Rachel Fattal rose up and put a long range shot past the Cal goalkeeper to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead at the break.
Halfway through the second frame, the Bruins struck again. This time it was Kodi Hill scoring to push the Bruins' lead to 3-0. A minute later, India Forster put the Bruins up by four. Charlotte Pratt dumped the ball inside, and Forster looped a back-to-the-cage hook shot over the goalkeeper.
Tenacious defense by the Bruins kept Cal off the scoreboard until there was just 2:39 left in the first half. UCLA nemesis Roser Tarrago slid a shot past UCLA 'keeper Sami Hill to give the Golden Bears a bit of hope heading into halftime.
Cal enjoyed a good spell to open the second half. Two minutes into the third quarter, Cal took advantage of an exclusion to score a power play goal. Midway through the third, the Golden Bears struck again. Cal's prolific scorer Dora Antal netted her first goal of the afternoon to pull Cal within one at 4-3.
Thirty seconds later, the Bruins finally converted a power play opportunity. Rachel Fattal took a pass from Alys Williams and whipped her shot into the back of the cage. A minute later, Kodi Hill restored UCLA's three goal lead when she lobbed the Cal goalkeeper from distance.
With both teams failing to convert 6 on 5 opportunities, the third quarter ended with the Bruins holding a 6-3 advantage.
The fourth quarter began as the third quarter had concluded--both teams failed to score with a player advantage. But when the Bruins were awarded a penalty shot at the 6:28 mark, Rachel Fattal confidently skipped the ball into the corner of the cage to put the Bruins up 7-3.
Midway through the fourth, UCLA converted a power play opportunity when Alys Williams scored on a pass from Kodi Hill. After a timeout, the Golden Bears needed only eight seconds to pull a goal back. Roser Tarrago ripped a long distance shot past Sami Hill to cut the UCLA lead to 8-4.
The Bruins' defense made sure there would be no comeback. When Mackenzie Barr scored with under two minutes remaining, the game was effectively over. UCLA conceded a consolation power play goal with 23 seconds left, but the Golden Bears never touched the ball again.
UCLA's 9-5 victory over Cal marked the Bruins' fourth triumph over the Golden Bears this season. Sami Hill recorded seven saves for the Bruins, which shows how well the UCLA defense performed.
Rachel Fattal led UCLA scorers with a hat trick. Kodi Hill and Alys Williams each scored a brace. The other UCLA goals came from Mackenzie Barr and India Forster.
Check out today's highlights from the Bruins' 9-5 victory over Cal. WATCH: http://t.co/MgVsZUwbk7— UCLA Water Polo (@UCLAWaterPolo) May 10, 2015
As I mentioned at the start, the Bruins were not at their best. Their passing wasn't sharp, which meant that some of their offensive possessions were wasted as a result of stray passes that disrupted the flow of the offense. More importantly, the UCLA power play continues to be less effective than it should be. Against Cal, the Bruins converted only two of ten power play opportunities. The Bruins will have to be more efficient on offense if they are going to beat Stanford today.
Stanford Edges Southern Cal
Stanford got all it could handle from the Trojans in yesterday's other semifinal. Stanford scored first through Maggie Steffens, one of a trio of 50+ goal scorers for the Cardinal this season. USC answered immediately, but Stanford was ahead again 20 seconds later when Ashley Grossman scored. Grossman is another member of Stanford's 50+ goal scorer club.
With two minutes left in the first quarter, Kiley Neushul made it Stanford 3, USC 1 when she scored on a pass from her sister Jamie. Kiley is the leading scorer for the Cardinal this season with 58 goals.
USC pulled back to within one 18 seconds later, and the first quarter ended with Stanford clinging to a 3-2 lead.
Southern Cal knotted the game at 3 within a minute of the restart. Stanford inched ahead a minute later with a power play goal by Jordan Raney, a two-meter defender. Stanford scored another power play goal three minutes later before the Trojans cut the lead to 5-4 just before halftime.
Stanford began to pull away in the third. The second half began with a quick goal from Steffens, her third of the game. After conceding a power play goal to the Trojans, the Cardinal extended their lead to three through a second power play goal by Raney and another goal by Grossman. That made it 8-5 Stanford.
The Trojans needed the next goal to stay in the game, and they got it at the end of the third quarter courtesy of a player advantage. Within the first minute of the final frame, USC was back within one when the Trojans were awarded a 5-meter penalty shot. However, the Cardinal converted their own 5-meter penalty shot on the next possession.
There were a slew of exclusions in the final five minutes of the game, but neither team could convert until USC found the back of the net with 42 seconds left in the game. But Stanford was able to kill the clock to preserve their lead. Stanford escaped with a 9-8 victory to advance to the final.
Stanford goalkeeper Gabby Stone registered 10 saves. Maggie Steffens, the MPSF Player of the Year, led the Cardinal with four goals.
What to Expect
This match is too close to call. Based on recent results, UCLA gets the edge, but the fact that Stanford is playing at home counterbalances that.
The Bruins and Cardinal have already met three times this season. Two of those matches were played in Palo Alto, and the Bruins lost both of them, although the most recent loss was by a single goal. The third match was played at a neutral site (at the UCI Invitational), and the Bruins won an overtime thriller by a score of 7-6. So there's nothing in the regular season results to make me think that this won't be another tight match decided by a single goal.
Both Stanford and UCLA play extremely aggressive defense. Therefore, I think it's safe to say that this will be a defensive battle. Also, I suspect that the team that does the best job of converting power play opportunities will probably win the match.
The wild card is UCLA goalkeeper Sami Hill. In my opinion, she's the nation's best shot-stopper. She can keep the Bruins in the game even if the offense is struggling.
Let's hope we see a top performance from UCLA's attackers today. If they're sharp and passing the ball accurately, the Bruins have a good chance of upsetting the home team.
This is your National Championship game thread.
Go BRUINS! Bring home #113!