UCLA Faces USC For NCAA Title

USC's Uytengsu Aquatic Center (Photo by John McGillen)
Dec. 2, 2017

NCAA Semifinal # 1

UCLA 11, Pacific 9

Recap by UCLA Sports Information

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Top-seeded UCLA (20-4, 1-2 MPSF) advanced to Sunday's NCAA Championship game with an 11-9 win over No. 5 Pacific (21-6) at USC's Uytengsu Aquatics Center in the first semifinal game of the 2017 NCAA Championship.

Freshman Nicolas Saveljic led the Bruins in scoring with a game-high-tying three goals. Three seniors, Alex Roelse, Jack Grover and Max Irving, each scored twice for UCLA. Redshirt sophomore Alex Wolf played the entire game, registering five saves while allowing nine goals, seven on Tiger power plays.

Senior Jack Grover got the Bruins on the board first with a strike from the front court (6:52). Then freshman Nicolas Saveljic put the Bruins up 2-0 with a score from the front court (4:58). Engin Ege Colak scored on a one-timer for Pacific (3:08) to cut the lead to 2-1. But Luke Pavillard scored back-to-back power play goals (0:57 and 0:34) to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead at the end of the first period.

Senior Alex Roelse opened the scoring in the second period (4:02) with a strike from the front court to tie the game at 3-3. Then senior Max Irving scored from the front court to put UCLA up 4-3 with 2:41 left in the second. Saveljic then ended the scoring with the Bruins' first power play goal of the game (1:48), his second score of the contest, to give UCLA a 5-3 lead at the break..

Freshman Felix Brozyna-Vilim made a beautiful turn at two meters and powered one past the Tigers' goalie (7:38) to open the scoring in the third, giving UCLA a 6-3 advantage. Then Pavillard scored his third power play goal of the game (6:55) to cut the Bruins' lead to 6-4. Irving made it 7-4 with his second front court goal (5:45) of the game off an assist from Roelse. Then Saveljic completed his hat trick with a wrist-away power play score (4:11) to double-up the Tigers, 8-4. But Luis Araya got one back for Pacific immediately with a goal from two meters (3:42). Junior Austin Rone then put the Bruins up 9-5 with a goal from the front court (1:50). Ben Stevenson ended the scoring in the third with a power play goal at the 1:04 mark to cut the Bruins' lead to 9-6.

Andres Schmidt opened the scoring in the final period with a power play goal (7:35) to cut the lead to 9-7. But Grover scored his second of the game on a power play off a feed from Irving (4:40) to push the lead to 10-7. Pacific got a second goal by Araya off of two consecutive shots and rebounds that Wolf couldn't get his hands on to secure (2:41) that cut the lead to 10-8. Roelse scored his second of the game on a power play (2:04) to add an insurance score. Stevenson scored a power play goal for Pacific (0:18) to provide the 11-9 final.

NCAA Semifinal # 2

USC 12, California 11

Recap by USC Sports Information

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. — The USC men's water polo team emerged victorious in an NCAA semifinal marked by huge momentum shifts, as the Trojans defended their home waters with a 12-11 win over California to advance to the national championship game for the 13th straight season. Up against the Golden Bears tonight in front of a sell-out crowd at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, USC saw a three-goal lead melt away in the first half before climbing out of a three-goal hole in the second half. With 2:32 to go, senior Grant Stein sliced in what would stand as the game-winner after a string of stubborn defensive stands by the Trojans to finish out the win and punch that ticket to the title match. USC will square off against crosstown rival UCLA in the 2017 National Collegiate Championship at 3 p.m. at the Trojans' own Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

Tonight's NCAA semifinal between USC and Cal marked a rematch of last year's final, which the Golden Bears won in overtime in their home pool. This time, the Trojans held the home-pool advantage, although USC did have to shrug off that three-goal deficit that Cal put the hosts in during the third period. Down 10-7 with 2:37 on the clock in the third, USC would score four consecutive goals to take an 11-10 lead with 5:47 left in the fourth. Marko Vavic lit the fuse for the Trojans with a solo shot that made it 10-8, then grabbing a steal and going on to fire off another huge goal to cut the deficit to 10-9 in the final minute of the third. In the fourth, Marin Dasic would interrupt the Cal offense with back-to-back steals. The second saw the sophomore streak away on the counterattack, with Thomas Dunstan hitting Dasic for the finish to lock up the game at 10-10 with 6:34 on the clock. Vavic would deliver a key field block to shut down a Cal 6-on-5 next, and then goalie McQuin Baron would sail a pass to Zach D'Sa for a sizzling strike that nudged USC into the lead, up 11-10 at 5:47.

Cal would level it again with a nice score out of set, snarling it at 11-11 with 3:50 to go. James Walters nabbed a steal soon after to send USC back on the attack, where Blake Edwards earned the 6-on-5 for the Trojans. That's where Stein stepped in and zipped in a sidearm sling to tug the Trojans to a 12-11 advantage with 2:32 remaining. Edwards caused more trouble for the Bears in keying two more takeaways with help from Matt Maier, and Walters came up with a big field block with 35 seconds to go and USC was able to keep control the rest of the way to lock up the semifinal win and launch the Trojans on to yet another NCAA final.

USC had opened up the game seemingly in control of things, crafting a 4-1 lead on goals from Maier, Stein, D'Sa and Matteo Morelli. Cal got a buzzer-beater to go to close the first quarter with USC's lead at 4-2, but Dunstan rifled in a goal off an Edwards setup to take USC ahead 5-2 early in the second. Stein sailed in a perfect lob to hold USC ahead 6-3 midway through the second, but Cal was undeterred and fired off a three-goal rally to lock the game even at 6-6 by halftime. After Vavic blasted his first of three goals in the third, Cal benefited from a momentum shift in the Bears' favor next. Two quick Cal goals made it a one-goal game, and then the Bears equalized on a 5-meter penalty shot before finishing off a 6-on-5 that had Cal enjoying that 10-7 lead. That's where the Trojans buckled back in, allowing just one more Cal goal while piling up five of their own to maneuver to victory.

In the first semifinal game today at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, top-seeded UCLA fought back to beat Pacific 11-9 to advance to the title match against USC. Again, the 2017 national championship game is set for 3 p.m. tomorrow (Dec. 3) at USC's Uytengsu Aquatics Center.