Men’s water polo lets lead slip away, falls to UCLA in overtime

USC came out the gates hot on senior day, but the Bruins roared back to take the win.

Head Coach Marko Pintaric let his emotions get the best of him, receiving two yellow cards and being ejected at a pivotal point in the game. USC was outscored 3-0 after his assistant coaches took over. (Ethan Thai / Daily Trojan)

Nothing would go USC’s way in the second half of Saturday afternoon’s crosstown rivalry. Swim caps constantly flying off, Head Coach Marko Pintaric getting ejected with a red card in the fourth quarter, a broken shot clock on the Trojans’ end and questionable calls by the referees all marred USC’s chances of hanging on to a win, falling 10-8 in overtime to the undefeated Bruins.

The Trojans (12-6, 1-5 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) came into the game with high hopes of redeeming themselves from last month’s 11-2 trouncing at the hands of their rivals. And it seemed like that would happen, striking within 16 seconds of the opening whistle to gain a 1-0 lead.

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USC fired ahead to grab a three-goal lead right before halftime, and it’s looking stout defensively. It wasn’t until 28 seconds before halftime that UCLA (23-0, 6-0) scored its first open-play goal of the game. But the Bruins kept firing away at the USC lead, and within the blink of an eye, the game was knotted up at seven with a little less than four minutes to play.

Senior 2-meter Max Miller continued his offensive onslaught for the Trojans, scoring two goals on the day and the key seventh goal for USC. Sophomore utility Andrej Grgurevic was tied with Miller for the most goals on the day with two, but none was more important than his tie-breaking goal.

After stealing the ball from a UCLA player, Grgurevic manhandled his way to the Trojans’ offensive end. Despite his swim cap being pulled off after a tussle with a Bruin defender, Grgurevic wound up and bounced the ball in the back of the net to give USC a one-goal lead.

The excitement was short-lived for USC faithful. The Trojans seemed to have possession after a missed shot by UCLA, but an exclusion call on the Trojans awarded the ball back to the Bruins. Pintaric, already on a yellow card, was livid and let the referee hear it.

Pintarraic then received a red card and was ejected for the rest of the game, forced to leave the pool entirely. Before leaving, Pintaric was sure to amp up the crowd before he left, yelling at them to get louder to give USC some momentum. His efforts were amiss, as shortly after, the Bruins scored the game-tying goal with just six seconds left in the game to send it to overtime.

“It was just kind of a tough couple of calls at the end there that led to this loss,” said redshirt freshman goalie Bernando Herzer, who finished with 11 saves on the day. “We played our best; we left everything we could in the pool.”

Assistant Head Coaches Ivan Buich and Matt Maier took over coaching duties for Pintaric after the ejection, but all the momentum USC had been working to create all game had dissipated. Even one of the shot clocks in the Trojans’ offensive side stopped working, leaving them with just one on their side of the pool. Everything seemed to be getting worse for USC.

The Bruins notched two goals in the overtime periods, signaling the end of the Trojans’ upset bid. It was undoubtedly an encouraging effort for a USC team that had lost four of six games earlier in the season, including the nine-goal loss to the Bruins. The Trojans had UCLA on the brink and were a few key plays away from coming away with a different result.

“We went into the first game [against UCLA] like we’d already lost the game before we even entered the game; we got in our heads,” Grgurevic said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “This game, we came in, went 100% and showed them what we have, and I think this will be in their heads for the rest of the season.”

The game brought the regular season to a close for USC, as it had a rather forgettable MPSF campaign. The Trojans’ 1-5 conference record is their worst winning percentage in conference play since 1991. But with back-to-back wins coming into this game and taking an unbeatable team to the brink, Pintaric and USC have every bit of belief they can run the table.

“Of course, guys are disappointed, but the look in their eyes is what told me everything,” Pintaric said. “They’re warriors, and they’re fired up to play the next game. and I hope we see [UCLA] in the semifinals [of the conference tournament].”

USC will see its next action in the MPSF tournament Friday at 11:15 a.m. when it travels to Spieker Aquatics Complex to take on Augustana in the first round.

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