The No. 1 USC Trojans stood a good chance of closing out the regular season undefeated as they traveled to take on the No. 3 UCLA Bruins in a two-game series. In the first match on Saturday, USC defeated UCLA 5-3. In the second game on Sunday, the Bruins were able to exploit the Trojans’ weaknesses and take down the seemingly invincible team, breaking USC’s perfect record. The Trojans were handed their first loss, falling 13-6.
UCLA stifled USC’s offense and shut down its top three scorers: redshirt senior driver Denise Mammolito, senior driver Verica Bakoc and redshirt senior utility Maud Megens. USC scored just 11 goals through both matches at UCLA this weekend after entering the series with an average of 12.75 goals per game.
Through both games, the Trojans struggled on the power play. On Saturday, they had eight power play opportunities but did not capitalize on any of them. The next day, they improved slightly, going 3-for-13, but still did not take full advantage of these critical chances.
In the first matchup, amazing goaltending and defense on both sides kept the score low. Going into the fourth quarter, USC had a 2-1 lead, with goals from juniors driver Grace Tehaney and utility Bayley Weber.
Weber kicked off the scoring in the final quarter with her second goal of the game. Goals from senior driver Kelsey McIntosh and Megens coupled with strong blocks and saves helped the Trojans close out the victory.
On Sunday, the Bruins came out with eager competitiveness and the will to win because it was their Senior Day. UCLA had extra bite to their game, making impressive field blocks and defensive moves.
The Trojans did not play at their usual caliber. Sloppy passes and lackluster possessions made it difficult to cut through UCLA’s defense. There were also many shots that went off the post. Their shooting percentage was .214, whereas it typically sits around .350.
“We didn’t play to our potential, especially in offense,” USC head coach Marko Pintaric said. “We were missing that extra fake and a crisper finish. If you’re not your sharpest, you’re going to pay the price.”
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. Clinical goal-scorer Megens took nine shots yet only netted one. She averages 2.3 goals per game.
USC was down 5-3 heading into the third quarter but was close enough to have the chance to close the gap. But despite generating numerous high-danger opportunities, the Trojans could not get the ball to the back of the cage. The Bruins added four goals, advancing their lead to 9-3.
In the fourth quarter, USC was able to get back onto the scoresheet with goals from Tehaney, junior utility Sophia Lucas and Mammolito, but it wasn’t enough. The Trojans were outplayed and lost for the first time this season by seven goals.
Though this is a tough loss after going undefeated through 17 games, Pintaric isn’t too worried.
“Our team is very self-motivated,” he said. “They are true winners. I have no doubt that this group of women will come out stronger after this loss.”
With the regular season over, USC will play in the MPSF Tournament at Arizona State. As the top-ranked team, the Trojans have a first-round bye. They will battle it out in the semifinal on Saturday against either Cal or Arizona State. USC will play for third-place or the championship on Sunday.