LOS ANGELES, California, December 3. IN order to create a little more space for itself in the history books, the USC men's water polo team pieced together a dramatic 11-10 victory over crosstown rival UCLA today to extend the Trojans' national championship streak to five in a row and finish their 2012 campaign a perfect 29-0. This epic rematch of the 2011 NCAA final -- where USC made history as the first-ever men's water polo team to win four straight titles -- was a far cry from last year's comparatively lopsided victory. Playing in the Trojans' own home pool at the McDonald's Swim Stadium, which begins renovation as the Uytensgu Aquatics Center in 2013, offered the opportunity for both Los Angeles-based schools to pack the house with fans and crank up the intensity beyond expectations.
The final whistle brought an end to possibly the most dramatic final in Trojan memory, as USC trailed by as much as three goals in the first period and was down two in the third, and also trailed in the fourth. Each time, the Trojans found a way to battle back. A 4-0 run gave USC a slim 6-5 lead during the second period, but UCLA answered back with three straight to shove the Trojans out of the way again. The Bruins were the aggressors throughout. Even when USC locked up the game at 9-9 on a blast from Matt Burton early in the fourth period, UCLA had another go-ahead answer. The Bruins led 10-9 with 3:09 to go, heaping pressure on the hosts and defenders of four straight titles.
That championship confidence seemed to win out for the Trojans over the pressure of keeping USC's undefeated 2012 season intact in front of countless fans. With 2:25 to go, Michael Rosenthal ripped in his third goal of the game for the fourth draw of the game. USC goalie James Clark came up with a clutch save next, and the USC defense held strong to get the ball back. The Bruins had managed to keep USC's No. 2 scorer, sophomore Kostas Genidounias, quiet on the scoring front during the game. At least, until the final minute of play. Burton found the hot-handed Genidounias for a searing score that gave USC an 11-10 lead with 40 ticks to go. It was the Trojans' first lead since the 4:47 mark of the second period, and it was a big one. As UCLA found itself in unfamiliar territory, having been ahead or tied for all but barely two minutes of the game to that point, the Bruins scrambled to try to find an equalizer. Instead, the stubborn USC defense stood tall. Mace Rapsey nabbed a UCLA pass and got the ball to Rosenthal with just 15 seconds left, and USC was in the driver's seat for the big win.
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