The #9 UCSB men’s water polo team came up short against its first conference opponent this weekend, losing to #1 USC on Friday.
The Gauchos (13-6 overall, 0-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) could not withstand a strong second half from the Trojans, losing 15-8 on Friday. UCSB then traveled to Long Beach to participate in the Long Beach State Mini Tournament, where it lost a 4-3 heartbreaker to #8 Davis, but the Gauchos were able to rebound with a come-from-behind win over #13 Pepperdine later that day.
Friday’s matchup with USC marked the first official MPSF match for the Gauchos, and it proved to be a difficult task to start the conference season off against last year’s national champion and the nation’s current #1 team. After being tied 2-2 early on, the Trojans ran off three straight goals to lead 5-2 at the end of the first quarter.
Santa Barbara played the Trojans tough in the second quarter, rallying to get the score to 6-5 midway through the period, but USC displayed its firepower again as it put three more goals on the board to take a 9-5 lead into halftime.
USC blew by the Gauchos in the second half, outscoring UCSB 4-0 in the third. Although the Gauchos scored three goals in the fourth, there was little doubt over the final result of the match as USC won its 29th straight game 15-8.
“We didn’t really play that well, but we were right there with them, so we know we’re capable of playing with them for a while,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “It could have been the same final score, but they could have led 7-0 and it wouldn’t have been the same; it went well for a while and that is definitely a positive for us.”
UCSB looked to put Friday’s loss behind it on Saturday at Long Beach State’s Mini Tournament, where it was matched up against nonconference foe UC Davis. The Aggies took a 4-1 lead into halftime, and UCSB spent the rest of the game trying to put the ball in the net. Santa Barbara held UC Davis scoreless in the second half thanks to junior goalkeeper Rick Wright’s nine saves, but the team was unable to capitalize on several scoring opportunities in the fourth, losing the game 4-3.
“The Davis game was really disappointing – I thought we played the worst game of the year,” Wigo said. “We were three for 29 on shooting, and most of our shots I thought were pretty good shots. It was a great chance to move ahead of Davis and we just didn’t play well.”
After the Davis defeat, the Gauchos hoped to bounce back against Pepperdine for a third time this season. Pepperdine looked to be in control of the game for three quarters, but UCSB stayed close, trailing 7-6 in the fourth. The Gauchos then exploded for four straight goals in less than three minutes time, stunning the Waves with a 10-7 lead. Santa Barbara was then able to hang on to win the game 10-9.
“Our best game was against Pepperdine – I think they’re a really good team, better than Davis and to beat them for a third time – that is pretty hard to do,” Wigo said.
UCSB returns to action next weekend at the SoCal Tournament in Los Angeles where it will face UC Irvine as well as a rematch with USC.