No. 2 USC travels to Westwood on Thursday to take on crosstown rival UCLA, in what will be the team’s last regular season game of the year and a crucial Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matchup heading into the conference tournament.
The Trojans (23-3, 5-2 MPSF) will be matching up with the No. 3-ranked Bruins (26-2, 6-1 MPSF) for the third time this year. This game, however, is of utmost importance because of MPSF tournament seeding implications.
The Trojans currently trail their rivals by one game in the MPSF standings and a win against the Bruins would allow them to clinch at least the No. 3 seed of the conference tournament. In order for the Trojans to achieve a higher seed, Pacific or Stanford would have to lose their final matches this weekend.
The Trojans have gotten the best of the Bruins in four of their last five matchups, but each of those games has been extremely close.
The last time the teams had a match decided by more than one goal was when USC defeated UCLA 7-4 in the 2011 national title game.
In their last epic clash, USC defeated the Bruins when junior driver Kostas Genidounias netted a goal to allow the Trojans to prevail 12-11 in overtime. At the time, the Bruins were the top-ranked team in the country after beating USC 9-8 earlier in the season to snap the Trojans’ 41-game winning streak.
“We’ve played them twice already this season,” redshirt junior driver Zach Lucas said. “We know what they have, we know what their strengths are so we are just going to have to focus on that.”
With so many recent losses to USC, UCLA will be especially motivated to clinch the season series at their home pool.
“They’re definitely going to be after us,” senior two-meter Jeremy Davie said. “It’s going to be their senior day at home and they’re going to be going all out, so we are just going to have to match their intensity.”
Last week, the Trojans split a pair of matches at home, losing to No. 4 Stanford on the team’s senior day 17-16 in overtime before bouncing back to defeat the No. 8 Long Beach State 10-8. USC had previously defeated both squads at neutral sites earlier this season.
The team’s loss to the Cardinal was a heartbreaker, as Stanford struck at the final buzzer to prevail over the Trojans. USC is determined to prevent any more last-second defensive breakdowns.
“We have to focus a lot more, improve on our defense and helping each other out,” Lucas said.
The Bruins played the Cardinal twice this season, defeating them 10-5 at the SoCal tournament but losing 8-6 in MPSF play.
UCLA is led by junior Paul Reynolds, who leads the team with 40 goals on the year. They have five total players who have 30 or more goals. Redshirt freshman Garrett Danner has made 217 total saves in goal in his 25 starts.
The showdown in the pool is set to start at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted nationally on ESPNU.
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