The two top-ranked men’s water polo teams in the country will face off in one of the biggest rivalry matchups in college water polo on Saturday as No. 1 USC will host No. 2 UCLA at Uytengsu Aquatics Center at 3 p.m.
After dominating Cal 13-7 and UC Irvine 15-5 last weekend, the Trojans enter this match with a 27-1 record, and the Bruins enter with a 20-2 record. Both teams are undefeated at home.
This weekend’s rivalry matchups — USC-UCLA and Cal-Stanford — will determine the seedings for the upcoming Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament. Both USC and UCLA are 1-1 in MPSF Tournament play this season. But it will not be enough for USC to come out with a victory over UCLA. The Trojans will also need a Cal victory to claim the top seed in the upcoming tournament.
“We have big history against [UCLA] but our two games last weekend gave us some confidence,” junior driver Marin Dasic said. “We don’t want to have too much confidence; we still have to work because they are a very dangerous team, and they can surprise us in any aspect.”
Sophomore attacker Nicolas Saveljic leads the Bruins in scoring with 38 goals this season. Redshirt junior goalie Alex Wolf anchors the defense with an average of 9.9 saves per game.
Sophomore drivers Marko Vavic with 55 goals and Jacob Mercep with 53 goals lead the offense for the Trojans. Eighteen Trojans have scored in games this season, with freshman driver Hannes Daube, senior driver Zach D’Sa, junior 2-meter Matt Maier, redshirt junior driver Daniel Leong and Dasic all leading scorers.
Freshman goalies Nic Porter and Sam Krutong anchor the defense with 9.83 saves per game and 9.27 saves per game, respectively, as well as sophomore transfer goalie Vaios Vlahotasios, who is averaging of 9.31 saves per game.
“Defense is always our primary thing to work on and the thing we have to focus on the most,” Dasic said. “But [UCLA] is a great defensive team too, so we are also working on our offense and trying to figure out how we’ll beat them.”
USC leads 68-57-1 all-time in the series, which dates back to 1962. The Trojans seek redemption after falling to the Bruins 7-5 in both last year’s MPSF Tournament championship match and national championship game.
Heading into the matchup, the Trojans are looking to continue the positive team dynamic they had in their games last weekend.
“We played the game unselfishly, and we really played a game where all of us contributed equally,” Dasic said.
The Trojans have also been working to improve team chemistry over the course of the season.
“It will be a huge aspect that we all have to be aware of,” Dasic said. “We have great chemistry between each other, and we believe in each other. I think we can be unstoppable, but we also have to be really aware of other teams and their capabilities.”
USC anticipates a large, vocal crowd Saturday afternoon.
“All of the support is really greatly appreciated by all of us, and it definitely pumps us up before and during the game,” Maier said.
Graduating Trojans D’Sa and Leong will be honored in a Senior Day pregame ceremony, as Saturday marks USC’s last home game of the regular season. Tip off will take place at 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on Pac-12 Los Angeles.