After a week off for rest and relaxation, the #9 UCSB men’s water polo team heads south this weekend to face a pair of nationally-ranked conference foes in #1 USC and #8 UC Irvine.

The Gauchos (7-3 overall) begin the weekend on Saturday against a Trojan squad (11-0) that has not lost a game since the 2007 national championship match, an 8-6 loss against California. UCSB will also have to battle a monstrous Trojan home-field advantage, as Southern California has not dropped a game at home in their last 28 games. USC brings many weapons to the table on offense as 18 different Trojans have scored at least two goals this year.

Junior two-meter defenders J.W. Krumpholz and Shea Buckner lead the attack this season with 17 goals apiece, 13 of which came en route to their first-place finish at the Northern California Tournament two weeks ago. Freshman goalkeeper Joel Dennerley was considered in the preseason to be USC’s only weakness, but after nine games Dennerley has surrendered only 40 goals and averages 9.3 saves per game.

“Against USC, we’re going to have to come about and play the best water polo we can to stay with them,” said Head Coach Wolf Wigo. “As long as we can get up and match them toe to toe in the beginning, I think the first four to five minutes are critical for a win.”

The following day, UCSB will stop in Irvine to exact a little revenge against an Anteater squad (1-5) that registered their only win of the season in a 10-9 thriller over the Gauchos in the first round of the NorCal Tournament. Sophomore driver Brandon Johnson and junior driver Thomas Kruip had a lot of success against Santa Barbara in that match, scoring four goals each which stand as season-highs for both of them.

In total, Johnson and Kruip have accounted for 43 percent of Irvine’s scoring this season, while Johnson’s 10 total goals leads the team. Defensively, sophomore goalkeeper Matt Johnson has started all five games he’s played in, and opponents are averaging 8.8 goals per game against him.

“With Irvine, hopefully we can get a little revenge on them for last weekend,” said Wigo. “This is a conference game, so it’s even more important and will affect our seeding for the conference tournament. It’s a good matchup against a good team.”

Entering both these games, the Gauchos hope to continue a number of streaks on offense that have lead more often than not to wins in 2008. Sophomore utility Milos Golic is in the middle of a 14-game scoring streak dating back to 2007 and leads the MPSF in goals per game with a 3.0 average. Golic also leads Santa Barbara in scoring and assists with 27 and eight on the year.

Senior driver Miles Price hasn’t been a slouch on offense either, having posted a five-game multi-goal streak of his own, and currently second on the team in goals scored with 18. In goal, the Gauchos have been content to split time with junior Michael Robinson and sophomore Frasier Bunn, who have combined for 77 saves so far.

UCSB and USC begin their match at 2:30 pm this Saturday in Los Angeles, while the game against Irvine is scheduled for a noon start on Sunday. The Gauchos return to campus on Tuesday for only their second home match of the year against unranked Iona.