Men’s water polo looks to bounce back against Cal

After suffering a tough one-goal loss at Pacific last weekend, the No. 3-ranked USC men’s water polo team will seek to rebound on the road at No. 4 Cal on Saturday morning.

The Trojans fell 8-7 to the Tigers on Oct. 25 in a tight game throughout. Pacific went ahead by two goals late in the fourth and while the Trojans pulled back within one on a Blake Edwards penalty shot, they were unable to equalize.

It was the Trojans’ first MPSF loss of the season – they had been 5-0 in division play prior to the match – as they fell one spot in the national rankings.

Edwards, who notched two goals in the match, leads the Trojans in scoring with 53 goals, and Grant Stein, also with two tallies, is next with 32. They are just a few of the potent options the Trojans have in their top-ranked offense that is averaging 15.8 goals per game. Goalkeeper McQuin Baron heads a strong USC defense that is second in the MPSF in defense, allowing just 5.55 goals per game.

“We’ve got to make sure – after [the loss to Pacific] – we don’t dwell on it,” Stein said. “We’ve got to be prepared for Cal this weekend. We’re not trying to focus on that loss. We’re trying to push forward and focus on what’s coming up in the future.”

The Bears also boast just one in-conference defeat, falling to tight-ranked UCLA in a close game. However, they came back the next day and beat Long Beach State 15-14 in double overtime.

“It’s going to be a really difficult game,” Edwards said. “They’re playing some really good water polo at the moment. We’re coming off a loss so everyone’s fired up, focused and excited.”

Cal is led by Johnny Hooper with 54 goals, followed by Odysseas Masmanidis with 45 tallies. The Bears have scored 297 goals while allowing just 168 by opponents; goalkeeper Lazar Andric is averaging 8.45 goals-against per game.

One key will be how USC fends off Cal’s potent counterattack.

“They’re one of the quickest teams in the league,” Stein said. “That’s a big part of it. It comes from focus on offense. No early, quick, stupid shots that we’ve done in the past — just making sure we know who’s guarding us so that we’re not surprised by their counterattack.”

Another is following the game plan, which the Trojans struggled to do at Pacific.

“Last week against Pacific we didn’t follow the game plan at all and we made too many errors,” Edwards said. “We need to go back to the basics, play good defense and be ready for their counterattack.”

Earlier this season, the Trojans defeated the Bears 12-7 in the third-place game of the NorCal Invitational behind 14 saves from McBaron.

“[McBaron} had a great game,” Stein said. “We had a slow start in that game, but as the game carried on we picked it up. We came out with a lot of fire and intensity.”

All-time, USC is 58-53-2 against Cal.

With these teams separated by just one spot in the rankings, the result of this game will have ramifications atop the MPSF standings.

This match caps off a three-game road trip for the Trojans, who will return home next week to take on UC Irvine.