STANFORD, Calif., December 5. IT'LL be deja vu all over again in this afternoon's 36th men's NCAA Water Polo Championship finals.
For the fourth time in the history of the tournament and the second time in seven days, Stanford and UCLA will face off in the pool, only this time all the marbles — the NCAA title — will be on the line.
Last Sunday here at the Cardinal's Avery Aquatic Center — also the site of last year's NCAA Final Four, won by USC over then double-defending champ Stanford — the home team stopped UCLA's 18-match winning streak en route to a 7-4 victory in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tourney finals.
Today at 2:00 pm PST, the Cardinal will be seeking its third NCAA Championship of the new century while the Bruins — back-to-back winners in 1999-2000 — will be seeking their second. In the last decade each university has won four championships, exemplifying the fact that these are the two premier water polo programs nationwide.
The match will be televised live on College Sports TV (CSTV).
A Stanford win today will mark its 11th polo championship, tying the Cardinal with Bay Area rival Cal for most-ever. UCLA has won seven championships, third on the all-time list.
If history is any criteria, Stanford will be favored inasmuch as the Cardinal has beaten the Bruins two other times for the title. The first was nearly 30 years ago when the Cardinal won its first crown under then Coach Art Lambert in '76. Then Stanford put paid to the Bruins' hopes for a three-peat three years ago with its first of two consecutive championships. UCLA beat Stanford five years ago in the teams' only other championship matchup.
No team from outside the Golden State has ever made it into the finals and this year is no exception. The Cardinal cruised past Western Water Polo Assn. champ Loyola-Marymount, 14-6, in the first semifinal yesterday afternoon at Avery while UCLA was forced to go into overtime to defeat a surprisingly strong Princeton team, 7-5.
The Cards and Bruins have met four times this season with each squad having a pair of wins, so today's matchup will tell the tale in many ways.
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The Cardinal, 23-4, jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first-period against LMU on two goals by Matt Moser. Stanford extended its lead to 5-1 at halftime, and then exploded for six goals in the third period to take an 11-3 lead.
Four-time MPSF MVP Tony Azevedo, a U.S. Olympian who's also been NCAA Player of the Year twice in three seasons, and Greg Crum each scored three goals while Peter Varellas and Thomas Hopkins added two goals apiece. Endre Rex-Kiss led Loyola Marymount with four goals.
"What was the name of that train that steamrolled us?" a dazed but not surprised LMY coach John Laughran said afterwards. "We wanted to play tough defense but Stanford was just too powerful, too offensive-minded. They're a great team."
The loss dropped LMU's season record to 20-11.
"I thought we played tough in the first half," Laughran continued. "We came out flat in the second half and they went on a run and that proved to be the shift in the game. Our goalie (Ian Elliott) had a great game. He kept us in the game in the first half."
Cardinal coach John Vargas, who, along with UCLA's Adam Krikorian, has won a title both as a player (U Cal Irvine, '82) and a coach (Stanford, '02). said: "I was really proud of our guys, and the way they came out defensively. I was happy with the way they played defensively. Ian Elliott (LMU goalkeeper) did a fantastic job. He is a really good goalie. We were prepared for him but he did a good job. It was great for our younger guys (reserves) to get a taste for what it is like (playing in the NCAA Tournament).
"It starts with our defense (preparing for UCLA). We are really going to focus on that and try to control the ball more."
Azevedo, still smarting from last year's double-overtime finals loss to SC, added: "A lot of times you get into the first game of the tournament, and everyone is excited. A lot of times you get too excited. We have been working and striving for this (winning the NCAA championship) all season. It is tough knowing that this will be the last game (Sunday's championship game). This is the most important thing on our mind. We will come out and play as hard as we can."
Stanford — Azevedo 3, Crum 3, Varellas 2, Hopkins 2, Moser 2, Garton 1, Bury 1
LMU — Rex-Kiss 4, Reynolds 1, Reilly 1
Taylor (S) 6, Stockstill (S) 2
Elliott (LMU) 8
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UCLA (24-3 overall and 19-1 in their last 20 games) avoided a major upset with a 7-5 overtime victory over third-seeded Princeton.
Coach Luis Nicolao's Tigers led 1-0 after the first period on a goal by Dean Riskas. The score was tied 2-2 at halftime and 3-3 after three periods. UCLA went in front, 5-4, with 5:45 left in regulation on a goal by Peter Belden, but Princeton tied the game with 45 seconds remaining in regulation on a goal by John Stover.
UCLA's Ted Peck scored the only goal by either team in the first overtime. In the second overtime, UCLA's Josh Hewko scored at 2:40 to make it 6-4, but Stover scored for Princeton at 1:38 to make it 6-5. Garcia added an insurance goal at 1:26 of the second overtime to give UCLA a two goal lead.
"We're obviously disappointed," said Nicolao, a former age-group swimming wunderkind at Santa Clara Swim Club who went on to become an All-America at Stanford and represented his native Argentina at the Olympics.
"It was one of those bittersweet games. We couldn't have asked more of our guys. We're proud of our guys. We played great. We wish UCLA luck tomorrow.
"We're always battling for respect. We feel strongly that we have some good water polo back East. We're always looking to make a name for ourselves. We do a good job of playing defense, and letting our goalie know where the ball was coming from. The game (between Stanford and UCLA) can go either way, depending on which team's goalie is playing better."
"I'm sure the [partisan Stanford] crowd was pleased," UCLA coach Krikorian said. "It was a great game. The Princeton coaches hve done a terrific job with those guys. They are an excellent team. They were very aggressive, and did a nice job defensively. We put up 37 shots, but our shooting percentage wasn't very good. We were lucky to get by and play for the championship. That was our goal and that is what we are doing. I'm excited to see our guys play like they are capable of doing. "
Bruin senior Peter Belden said his team's "main problem was our shooting percentage. It rallies them (the other team) up and makes it a close game."
Added Axelrad: "We had Stanford in our minds all week after losing to them (last weekend). We had them as our main focus all week. We overlooked Princeton a little bit. But we set out to win a national championship, and a win is a win."
Princeton 2-1-1-0-1- 0 – 5
UCLA 1-1-1-1-1- 2 – 7
UCLA Goals: Albert Garcia 2, Peter Belden 2, Brett Ormsby, Ted Peck, Josh Hewko
Princeton Goals: John Stover 2, Dean Riskas, Jamal Motlagh, Michael Murray
Joseph Axelrad (UCLA) 2
Peter Sabbatini (Princeton) 12