You knew that it was not going to be easy, but Cal Men’s Water Polo have finally defeated UCLA Bruins. Golden Bears won 9-8 in OT to earn a spot in Sunday’s national championship match, 3 pm PT from Spieker Aquatics Center in Berkeley, against USC (more on that match in a preview post that I will happily write for tomorrow during the day).
It was a defensive struggle between the two sibling schools on Saturday night in Berkeley. Common and exclusion fouls were frequently called on both sides. Cal defense and goalkeeper Lazar Andric was up to the task early in this match. Andric, unofficially collected 10 saves in the first half, and the Golden Bears lead 2-1 at the half behind goals by the two Greek players on the team in Vassilis Tzavaras and Odysseas Masmanidis. UCLA’s Grover had scored the first goal of the match.
Cal’s Turkish freshman Safak Simsek scored twice from the same power play plays in the 3rd quarter to counter act UCLA’s cashing in on two power plays (goals by Marshall and Roberts). UCLA found an equalizer with 1:44 left in the 3rd quarter. The Bears answer with two big goals from Calympian Luca Cupido and senior defender Farrel South to earn a 6-4 lead going into the final quarter.
Cal’s leading scorer, sophomore Johnny Hooper, scored a power play goal early in the 4th quarter to give the Bears a 7-4 lead. Unfortunately, just like in the MPSF semifinal match, UCLA could not be put away by a late 3 goal lead in the 2nd half. Off a very useful timeout, UCLA scored on their next 4 possessions to go ahead 8-7 on the Golden Bears late.
In a tightly called match (it is typically very hard to see the fouls from above the water, the not so great NCAA.com stream makes it even harder to see what was going on), the Bears at this point lost all 4 players that are listed as a “defender” on their CalBears.com roster due to picking up 3 exclusion fouls. Seniors Thomas Carroll, Chandler Jarrels, and Farrel South as well as junior Nicholas Carniglia were all DQ’ed at this point of the match. The only other listed defender on the roster Mikey Williams was not active on the postseason roster.
Of course, “THE BEAR WILL NOT QUIT, THE BEAR WILL NOT DIE”. California Golden Bears answer with a goal of their own from the junior lefty Conor Neumann.
Conor Neumann bars one in! We're tied again! 3:34 left in the 4th. Cal 8, UCLA 8. #GoBears— Cal Water Polo (@CalWaterPolo) December 4, 2016
Both sides had the chance to go ahead but no addition goals were scored in regulation.
Golden Bears made a couple more saves in the first 3 minute OT but did not threaten to score. With just 3 more minutes to go until the possibility of this match being determined by a penalty shootouts, it is Conor Neumann again for the Bears as he scored a cross cage strike.
IT'S CONOR NEUMANN! 55 seconds left in 2OT and Cal leads 9-8! #GoBears— Cal Water Polo (@CalWaterPolo) December 4, 2016
Bears made two more stops and held on for this exciting victory.
- Cal senior goalie Lazar Andric is the clear MVP for the Bears. He’s also one of the emotional leader on the team. Andric even picked up a yellow card just before the half for being too pumped after a big save. It might be just a coincidence, but Andric played his best when he’s positioned directly in front of the bulk of the Cal home crowd.
- Calympian Luca Cupido may not score that many goals, but he was everywhere for the Bears. Cupido earned quite a few field blocks in this one (I would have to look up the official stats if they are ever available online).
- I’m not sure if it was a bandwidth issue with more viewers, but I had a better experience and clearer pictures watching the Pomona-Pitzer stream of Thursday’s play-in game at the same venue than the national semifinal match today. In the middle of the first quarter, I also had the stream going to a minute of commercials in the middle of play. Come on, NCAA.
- USC may be very well rested (they had a super easy 19-4 win over Harvard earlier) but this Cal Bears team believe that it’s their time. Senior Farrel South told me this when I interviewed him in Princeton at the beginning of the season. It should be a very close contest on Sunday afternoon.
GOAL ON YOU BEARS!
Here we go. It’s the much anticipated 4th meeting between Cal and UCLA in the pool. This time, a spot in the National Championship match is on the line. Host California Golden Bears, holders of the most NCAA championships in men’s water polo in history with 13, are looking to knock out the 2x reigning champs.
My preview for this bout can be found here.
The NCAA national championship match will be played on Sunday, December 4th at 3 pm PT between the winners of USC/Harvard and Cal/UCLA.
Top seed USC get to play Harvard Crimson, who had to win two play-in games - against Lehigh and then UC Davis to make it to the final four. USC dispatched Harvard 19-4 in the first semifinal on Saturday. That’s the Trojans’ 12th straight trip to the national championship match - they have won 7 of the last 12 national titles (in that span, 2 went to Cal and the last 2 went to UCLA).
Second seed UCLA also got a bye until the semifinal. Third seed Cal had to defeat Pomona-Pitzer on Thursday to make the final four.
Golden Bears last played in the NCAA national championship match in 2010 (a 12-10 OT loss to USC). Bears’ last national title came in 2007 (8-6 win over USC). UCLA has won the last two national titles and played in 5 of the last 7 national championship match.
NCAA Men’s Water Polo semifinal:
California Golden Bears (21-4) vs. UCLA Bruins (25-2)
Where: Spieker Aquatic Center (Berkeley, CA)
When: 5:12 pm PT
Online Stream: NCAA.com