The USC men’s water polo team (20-1) will be taking on the Pacific Tigers (15-3) in a critical matchup for both squads, as the Trojans enter the game with the No. 1 ranking while Pacific boasts the third spot in the national poll.
USC head coach Jovan Vavic’s squad is coming off of an impressive 16-10 victory over No. 6 UC Santa Barbara, another perennial water polo powerhouse. The win over the Gauchos propelled the Trojans back to the top spot in the national rankings. The team had previously held the No. 2 spot for four consecutive weeks following their loss against UCLA in the finals of the SoCal Tournament in early October.
Pacific enters this weekend’s matchup coming off of a heartbreaking 12-10 loss to No. 2 UCLA.
With a number of MPSF matches coming up, Vavic knows his team will have to bring their A-game if they’re going to remain undefeated in conference play.
“We have big conference games coming up,” Vavic said. “Everyone is going to play each other multiple times.”
Tigers goalie Alex Malkis has been dominant to this point, averaging 12.7 goals per game. He will have to come up big if Pacific is to snap USC’s 16-game winning streak against the Tigers and put a dent in the Trojans’ 43-7 all-time record against them.
The Trojans have yet to lose a road game this season, having won both of their matches in enemy territory (the one loss occurred in a neutral location), and will look to keep a zero in that loss column behind the strong play of senior standout driver Nikola Vavic.
Vavic recently took over as USC’s all-time scoring leader and has added to his legacy with his performance this season, leading the team in goals with 58 to this point.
Junior driver Kostas Genidounias is often overlooked but has been just as effective for the Trojans. His 56 goals on the year have been key, and his scoring often comes in critical moments of close contests for the Trojans.
Behind Genidounias and Vavic, the Trojans have managed to score a number of goals, but their defense has not been quite as dominant. The unit has averaged 5.3 goals allowed per game overall, but 8.5 goals per game in two MPSF matches. If USC is to win a record sixth straight national championship, Vavic said they must improve in that regard.
“We need to play better half-pool defense,” Vavic added.
If the Trojans can step up said defense, they’ll be in prime position for another national title run. Looking ahead, they have huge rivalry matchups with MPSF powerhouses California, Stanford and UCLA. The matchup with the Bruins will be the final regular season game before the conference championship tournament and, following that, the NCAA Tournament.
USC and Pacific will begin play in Stockton, Calif. at noon.
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