UPDATE: The Bears are in!
Alright Golden Bear fans...this group will see you in Los Angeles!— Cal Water Polo (@CalWaterPolo) November 20, 2017
The Bears open @NCAA Tournament play on Dec. 2 at 5:15 p.m. against either USC, Harvard or George Washington! #GoBears #TwoMoreWins pic.twitter.com/h4Zu210B7s
With the 3rd place finish in the MPSF, the Golden Bears earned the 1st at-large bid (aka no play-in game) and will take on the winner of USC, Harvard, or George Washington (okay, it should be host USC barring some craziness) in the NCAA semifinal. The winner will likely face UCLA (top overall seed despite not winning the MPSF) from the other side of the bracket (okay, Pacific, UC Davis, Pomona-Pitzer are also in play...maybe Pacific may surprise) in the final.
Wow! It was a 38 minutes (including the 6 minutes of OT) of emotion in this MPSF 3rd place match. In the end, the Golden Bears prevailed 10-9 and will likely earned that 2nd at-large bid to return to the NCAA tournament in two weeks (hosted by USC).
With 20 seconds and one last possession to equalize the match at the end of regulation, Golden Bears went to their senior, USA Calympian, leading scorer Luca Cupido. Even with the Stanford defenders knowing that he will get the ball, Cupido managed to get the game tying goal nonetheless to send this match to OT.
After junior Odysseas Masmanidis got the Bears ahead first, Cupido in a great individual effort got around one defender and the Stanford goalie to put the Bears up by two at the end of the first OT.
With Stanford having one final chance to tie the match, Cupido got the field block on Stanford’s redshirt freshman star Hallock to seal this match for the Golden Bears.
From the official CalBears.com recap:
"I didn't know if this was going to be my last senior game, so I knew I was going to give everything in the water. I told the guys they would have to take me away in an ambulance if they had to because I wasn't going away without giving everything," Cupido said. "It's crazy. This team, even last year, likes that hard, difficult path. We're very talented but for some reason we always try to get the crowd involved and make it more interesting. If not, we're not happy. I'm not in great shape, I just got back three days ago, but it's just a matter of playing with your heart and not letting your team down. They count on me, and if I didn't have it, I had to give whatever I had."
Before we got to all these Cupido heroics, it was a back-and-forth match between two proud programs knowing what was at-stake. Host Stanford got out to a quick lead by taking a 3 goal lead on the Bears early in this one. While the Bears were getting great looks, Stanford senior goalkeeper Drew Holland (likely playing his last collegiate match) was making some insane stops. Of course, the Bears would not quit.
Cal wins the 2nd half handily by stifling the Stanford offense while tying the match up. At the half, it was a 5-5 match.
In the 3rd quarter, the Golden Bears were able to go ahead by two goals. Bears then had a great chance to go ahead by 3 when Holland and Masmanidis were mutually excluded giving the Bears a 5-on-5 chance with no true goalkeeper for Stanford. Stanford came up big and got the field block. Stanford then got a huge goal at the end of the 3rd quarter to cut the Cal lead to one.
Nursing an one goal lead, the Bears offense looked very tired in the 4th quarter. This eventually came to haunt the Bears as Stanford got two quick goals in the final two minutes or so of regulation to put the Bears in a hole. Stanford, in fact, had the chance to ice the match with a power play and an one goal lead but the Cal defense earned the big stop. Stanford actually got lucky and got the loose ball to burn more time to lead to the 40 seconds left heroic for Cupido.
The full NCAA men’s water polo bracket will be revealed tonight. Most likely, the Bears may have to host a play-in game before heading to LA to play one of USC/UCLA in the semifinal to earn the right to play the other LA school in the final. I will update this post once the bracket is unveiled.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
With only two at-large bids in addition to the automatic bid for the conference winner, only 3 of the 4 worthy MPSF schools can qualify for the NCAA championships (in two weeks from USC). Because the Golden Bears dropped their first match 8-5 to UCLA, they must win this 3rd place match to get one of the at-large bid. Revenge is also on the mind of the Golden Bears, who lost the Big Splash (and the Steve Heaston Trophy) to Stanford from this same pool 1.5 week ago.
Bears took care of business on Saturday, easily dispatching Penn State Behrend (weirdly, they are the 5th MPSF team along side Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC).
Bears found their offense again, after it mysteriously disappeared against UCLA on Friday. They will need to again play a pretty complete game to beat Stanford on Sunday.
Cal and Stanford have split their first two meetings with the Bears winning the first match, 3rd place match of the Mountain Pacific Invitational from a neutral site, and the Cardinal taking the Big Splash from the same pool as today. If the Golden Bears want a shot to defend their 2016 NCAA national championship title, they need to win this essential play-in game and eliminate their rival Stanford today.
Pac-12 Network will have the action of this pivotal match today at 11 AM PT.