After the USC men’s water polo team’s last meeting with UCLA, the Trojans looked on as the rival Bruins celebrated their NCAA Championship victory at USC’s home pool. But on Saturday, the Trojans got to celebrate in front of a packed home crowd as they held off the top-ranked Bruins 8-7 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
“It’s a ton of fun, playing UCLA in our own pool, they’re No. 1, we’re No. 2 in the country,” senior goalie Nic Porter said. “You can’t write a better sports fairytale than that. For us to get the win on Senior Day is just the icing on the cake.”
Last season’s title game was also a low-scoring affair with strong defensive efforts on both sides, but UCLA found that extra goal to take the 7-6 victory. This time, USC was able to crack the Bruins’ defense in the second half and get the upper hand.
“They played really tough defense and so did we. We saw that in the finals last year,” senior 2-meter Jake Ehrhardt said. “Unfortunately we didn’t win that game, and that was a lot of motivation for this game and this season overall. They played tough defense, and we broke through it in the third quarter.”
The game was close throughout, as the teams exchanged one-score leads until the Trojans went up by two with only eight seconds to go. USC kept the game close with solid defense on the power play, allowing UCLA to convert only two of nine opportunities.
The Bruins outshot the Trojans 28 to 19 but only capitalized on seven of those shots. Porter came up with 12 saves, including a crucial block where he came across the goal at the end of the second period to keep the game tied entering halftime. He has tallied double-digit saves in each of his last five appearances.
Porter credited his teammates’ effort in stopping the UCLA attack.
“I’m just the goalie, I just float there. They’re the ones doing all the heavy lifting in the pool,” he said. “The defense takes attitude, it takes heart, and I think we showed that in absolute bucketloads today. I thought we were deserved winners because of how we closed the game out in the third and fourth quarter.”
Along with the solid defensive effort, individual offensive performances helped the Trojans outpace the Bruins. Sophomore driver Carson Kranz went 2-for-2 on the afternoon, and redshirt junior driver Ashworth Molthen extended his scoring streak to nine games.
The Trojans, who finish the season at 16-1, will have nearly two weeks off from official competition before the MPSF Tournament begins Nov. 19. Their performance in that tournament, which features tough conference foes Stanford, Cal and UCLA, will determine seeding in the NCAA Tournament.