After clinching the fifth seed in the MPSF tournament last weekend, the No. 5 UCSB men’s water polo team will travel to face No. 1 UCLA on Saturday in their final regular season game of the year.
Last Saturday’s 12-10 victory over Irvine secured the slot for the Gauchos who will try to win their first game against UCLA this season after already falling to the Bruins twice on the year.
“You’re playing the number one team in the country so I think that’s enough motivation for anyone,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We’ve played the number one team in the country twice and we lost by a goal at different points in the season. I think the guys are ready to get that win.”
Currently at 15-9 (3-4 MPSF) on the season, UC Santa Barbara hopes to improve upon their 12-5 defeat against UCLA back on Oct. 1, the Gaucho’s largest margin of defeat all season long.
“I think definitely it’s going to be a lot more competitive,” junior goalkeeper Myles Christian said. “We’ve improved so much as a team this season. The second time it was, I would say, one of our worst games as a team. We’ve gotten a lot better and I think it will be a competitive game.”
The first match between UCSB and UCLA was a 13-10 victory for the Bruins on Sep. 17, a game that came down to the last quarter.
UCLA must first face its rival and the team they share the No. 1 ranking with in USC on Friday night. The Bruins (19-3 overall, 5-1 MPSF) are battling USC in the MPSF standings and can overtake the Trojans with a victory.
“Friday night both teams are going to use all their energy,” junior attacker Jesse Gillespie said. “Having a game the next afternoon is really going to be rough because Friday night is probably going to take a lot out of UCLA mentally and physically so hopefully that will be an advantage for us.”
Santa Barbara will have the tough task of slowing down a UCLA offensive attack ranking second in the conference at over 12 goals per game and led by junior Josh Samuels who scores nearly twice per contest.
“We’ve just got to make sure to shot block near side, make sure that our shot blocking is up to par; we can’t give up counterattack goals,” Gillespie said. “We just have to be mentally prepared knowing that we can go out there and win this game.”
Saturday’s match provides UCSB with a huge chance to make a statement in their final game of the regular season against the top ranked Bruins.
“It’s not going to affect our seed in this tournament,” Christian said. “But if we pull off this upset it’s definitely going to give us a bunch of confidence going into the MPSF tournament.”\
With the MPSF tournament taking place at UCLA this season, Saturday’s match may give the Gauchos an insight playing at the Bruin’s home pool.
“Just having an extra game at that pool will help us get adapted to the whole atmosphere,” Gillespie said. “Playing that top team is just going to help with that MPSF tournament coming up.”
UCSB seemed to be unfazed by the Bruin’s top ranking, up to the challenge of facing a UCLA team that has won nine games in a row entering the USC game.
“It’s going to keep us sharp,” Wigo said. “Having to play against the top team is always what you want. The more good competition you’ve got, the better your team is going to get.”
Closing out the match is a main point of the Gaucho’s entering the finale against UCLA. Their previous three matches have been decided by a combine four goals, so UCSB knows what it takes to come out on top in close games.
“We need to have good time management and not try force things or get offensive fouls,” Christian said. “We’ve given away a couple of leads this season and that’s something we can definitely improve on. We’re doing well and I think we’re going to peak right at the right time.”
Saturday’s match against UCLA will begin at 12 p.m. in Spieker Aquatic Center.
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