The USC-UCLA rivalry’s latest chapter was written Sunday when the No. 3 Trojans (18-4) hosted No. 1 UCLA (22-2). It was a battle, as neither team had more than a one-score lead until the fourth frame, but the Bruins eventually overpowered the Trojans in a 10-8 win.
It was an electric scene at Uytengsu Aquatics Center as the stands were packed with boisterous Trojan and Bruin fans. USC freshman goalie McQuin Baron enjoyed the atmosphere.
“It’s awesome,” Baron said. “Definitely a blessing to play at USC and especially in a new stadium like this … It’s awesome playing under the lights, night game with a big crowd, definitely brings a different vibe to the game.”
Senior driver Rex Butler also enjoyed Sunday’s scene.
“It was definitely exciting,” Butler said. “Emotions were running high and it was good to get a packed house for the first time in the new pool complex for a big rivalry game. It was a fun experience.”
Not even thirty seconds into the game, the Bruins struck first. Butler scored less than a minute after that with 6:59 left in the first, setting the pace for an up-tempo match. The crosstown rivals went back and forth during first quarter and the score was tied 3-3 going into the second.
USC freshman utility James Walters scored a goal not even a minute into the second frame to give the Trojans their first lead of the game at 4-3. The Trojans and Bruins exchanged two goals before USC freshman driver Lazar Pasuljevic ripped one in the back of the net with 2:51 remaining in the half to give USC a 6-5 lead. UCLA’s Ryder Roberts would have a chance to tie the game up with a penalty shot late in the second, but Baron blocked it. Baron believes this save helped keep his team in the game.
“It was a big momentum builder for our team because if they would have scored that it would have been tied 6-6 and would have brought it back into their hands,” Baron said.
Baron would hold UCLA scoreless from that point until halftime. However, the second half was a much different story.
Roberts, who is one of UCLA’s leading scorers, scored two straight goals in the beginning of the third. Butler broke a USC scoring drought with 3:20 left in the quarter to tie the game at 7-7. UCLA and USC then traded goals, and it seemed the game would be tied going into the fourth. But, with under a minute left in the third quarter, UCLA’s Paul Roberts avenged his brother’s earlier missed penalty shot by shooting a laser past Baron on another penalty to give UCLA a 9-8 lead going into the final quarter.
Roberts’ late score was a turning point for the Bruins, and they capitalized on the momentum when Cristiano Mirarchi gave the Bruins the first two-goal lead for either team at 10-8. The Bruins buckled down on defense, and the Trojans were unable to mount a comeback. After taking a 6-5 lead into the half, the Trojans were outscored 5-2 in the second half and held scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Butler, who had two key goals, talked about the Trojans’ struggles in the second half.
“We had the momentum and then a few defensive lapses,” Butler said. “We weren’t getting guys quite quick enough and they strung together a couple goals, and we just couldn’t fight our way back into it … We were just trying to stay composed, and stay level-headed throughout that whole game. UCLA wouldn’t just go away.”
Baron believes that another key to UCLA’s offensive success was having multiple previous experiences facing him.
“It was our third time playing them,” Baron said. “They’ve learned my tendencies. They know how I play as a goalie and where to beat me.”
Nonetheless, Baron believes that when it comes to this crosstown rivalry, any team can come away with a victory.
“They came out strong,” Baron said. “They really wanted it, just as bad as we did, of course, but with two teams like this on any given day, one can beat the other.”
Despite having lost two of their last four games, Butler believes his team is in fine position right now.
“It doesn’t really change a whole lot for us,” Butler said. “We are still gonna have the same mindset, and we just want to go out and bounce back from these games and correct our mistakes … I think, if anything, it’s just going to motivate us to train a little harder, be a little bit more focused. We didn’t lose a championship here today.”
Despite the Trojans’ struggles, Butler said an earlier loss to Stanford motivated him to improve.
“This whole week of practice, I was trying to focus on getting my shots to go early,” Butler said. “In the Stanford game, I was zero for five and didn’t really get anything going until the end, so I was really trying to stay focused and I was getting great passes and great looks from my teammates, so they made it pretty easy on me.”
USC will go on the road next weekend to face Long Beach State on Saturday, Nov. 8, and UC Irvine Sunday, Nov. 9, with both games starting at noon.