In its return to Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) play this weekend, the #15 UCSB men’s water polo team dropped both its games to two of the top teams in the nation. The Gauchos (9-12 overall, 0-3 in the MPSF) fell 8-2 to #4 UCLA and 10-3 to #1 USC.

Although Santa Barbara showed signs of life early on in both games – entering the second quarter down only one goal – the opposition quickly ran away with the games from there. Both UCLA and USC went into halftime with a four-goal lead and finished off their victories by outscoring the Gauchos in the remaining periods.

“It’s OK, I’m not pleased with it, it’s acceptable,” UCSB Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We’re in the game but once we get down four, five goals, this team needs to find something in itself that they’re still fighting … and believe that they can come back against the top team. I’m not convinced that they have that right now.”

The Bruins held Santa Barbara scoreless in the first half before sophomore driver Matt Tilburg scored the first of his two goals in the third quarter Saturday. After allowing only one goal in the first quarter, UCSB could not contain the Bruin offense and gave up three goals in the second and third and one in the fourth to drop the match 8-2.

The Gaucho response to the Trojans’ early goals came from sophomore driver Coulson Lantz’s goal during a man advantage to cut the lead to one on Sunday. The second quarter was a different story – USC shut down Santa Barbara’s offense with quality hole defense. The Trojans extended their lead to four goals with a four-meter penalty shot by senior driver Juraj Zatovic. After a missed four-meter shot of their own, the Gauchos went into the final period down 8-1.

Freshmen drivers Danny Natalizio and Miles Price contributed two goals for UCSB in the fourth period but it was not enough with the Trojans tacking on two more for a final score of 10-3.

“I thought they played very well defensively. I thought they did a good job taking away our two-meter men, they would press and then drop and split,” USC Head Coach Jovan Vivac said. “I thought they did a good job, especially in the first quarter, taking our hole men out of the game.”

UCSB’s schedule gets significantly easier next week as the Gauchos take on three unranked teams at home before returning to conference play.

“We look to take each game. We know we need to win some games and there are some big games coming up but we played the first three games against probably the top three teams in the MPSF,” freshman driver Michael Machado said. “It’s kind of good. We got to see what we need to work on and we can take the learning experiences into the next games.”