Saturday, May 18

UCLA men’s water polo sinks Biola to advance to NCAA tournament semifinal

Redshirt sophomore center Grant Loth shoots against Biola at Uytengsu Aquatics Center in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday afternoon. Loth finished the game with four goals. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Men’s water polo

No. 1 seed UCLA20

The NCAA men’s water polo tournament featured a true David versus Goliath matchup.

Fortunately for the Bruins, Friday’s first-round bout would be one of few surprises. 

No. 1 seed UCLA men’s water polo (25-2, 7-0 MPSF) returned to where it’s been so comfortable this season – the win column – as it beat unranked Biola (21-13, 4-0 WWPA) by a score of 20-7 at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center to advance to the NCAA semifinal.

“They (Biola) started off that game with great intensity,” said coach Adam Wright. “What we have to realize is, we’re going to see everybody’s best shot, and that’s the way it’s been all year. Once we settled in, we got going, and it really starts with our defense.”

UCLA came off back-to-back losses to USC and Stanford, ending its undefeated run to finish in fourth at the MPSF championship. But Biola, the new kid on the block, earned its spot at its first-ever men’s water polo NCAA championship by winning the WWPA championships.

Despite scoring first to open the game, the Eagles’ 1-0 lead would be the only lead – and glimmer of making history – they would hold all day, as redshirt sophomore center Grant Loth gave the Bruins a 3-2 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.

Loth completed a hat trick just three minutes into the second period – his third hat trick of the campaign – and would end the match with four goals, leading the Bruins on the scoresheet. 

“It’s a lot of trust, but it’s just a lot of hard work, and all of it’s consistency,” Loth said. “We’ve been doing this the whole year. … It’s nothing new – it’s the same game.”

Despite the Bruins’ ultimate domination, the Eagles hung around for longer than Wright would’ve liked – converting 3 out of 4 power plays to begin the contest and, at one point, trailing UCLA 7-5 in the second period. 

But the Bruins halted the power play success in the second half, with the Eagles ending the game 4-of-9 in the category.

“The intensity, the focus towards our defense – which, that should be our No. 1 thing that we’ve channeled our focus to – picked up in the second half,” Wright said. “To be honest, if we’re going to be successful – and we have the sample from the whole year – the No. 1 thing has been our defense and our five-on-six.”

Biola opened the second quarter outscoring UCLA 3-1 before the Bruins pulled away, growing their lead to 12-5 by the end of the half. And in the third period, UCLA proved it’s every bit as good as its No. 1 seed indicates, scoring five goals and shutting out Biola entirely. 

All in all, the Bruins’ relentless offense ended the day with 11 players scoring and seven completing braces. Freshman attacker Wade Sherlock was one of seven Bruins to score two or more goals Friday. 

Sherlock said the team’s culture has helped him emerge as a vital player in his first year with the program.

“All the older guys have been a big key of our success,” Sherlock said. “I feel like they’re always helping us, guiding us, striving for us to do good. It’s good to have a good culture.”

The improved second-half defense coincided with a switch at goalkeeper. Fifth-year Bernardo Maurizi replaced the starter, senior Garret Griggs, to begin the third period. 

Maurizi wouldn’t allow a single Eagle goal until the 6:45 mark in the fourth period and allowed just two goals while between the sticks. Griggs and Maurizi combined for eight saves in the contest, with three and five respectively. 

UCLA is set to face the winner of No. 4 seed Princeton against UC Irvine on Saturday in the NCAA semifinal on its quest for its first NCAA title since the 2020 season. 

“For us, the one good part is that we’ve played both teams and it wasn’t that long ago,” Wright said. “Obviously, they’ve grown a lot, and we’ve grown a lot.”

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