LOS ANGELES, Nov. 13. UCLA's top-ranked men's water polo team, 19-2 overall and riding a 14-match win streak, closes its regular season with two key Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matches this weekend.
A sweep over the No. 3-ranked and defending NCAA champion USC Trojans Saturday at USC's McDonald's Olympic Swim Stadium plus a win at home Sunday against U Cal Irvine — which defeated the Trojans at home a few weeks ago — would give UCLA its first MPSF Championship in four years and the top seed in the eight-team conference tournament the weekend following Thanksgiving (Nov. 27-28) also at Stanford.
The winning team there will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Final Four at the Cardinal's Avery Aquatic Center the first weekend in December (4-5)
However, before the Bruins begin making flight reservations for Palo Alto there's a lot of polo to be played and Bruin head coach Adam Krikorian is well aware of the task ahead.
"Playing USC at their pool is always a tough match and this year they're the defending national champs so it's doubly difficult," Krikorian said. "They're a strong defensive team and even though they lost to Irvine they'll be waiting for us. UCLA vs. USC in anything is always a great matchup and they have the added incentive of trying to stop our winning streak."
The match will begin at 4:30 pm Pacific Standard Time in order to accommodate fans who want to see the USC-Arizona football game next door at the Coliseum, which begins at 7 pm. USC's football team (9-0) is ranked No. 1 nationally.
Sunday's match against Irvine at the Bruins' Sunset Canyon Rec Center Pool begins at 1 PM.
The Bruins are 6-0 in MPSF play followed by Stanford (6-1) and both USC and Irvine at 4-2. The Cardinal's sole loss was to UCLA last month at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center by a 7-4 margin. Since the start of the new millennium, UCLA, Stanford and USC have ruled the men's polo championship, with the Bruins winning back-to-back championships in 1999-'00, Stanford taking the following two championships and the Trojans winning last season. Since winning in 2000 the Bruins have not been back to the Final Four.
Overall, Cal has the most titles since water polo officially became an NCAA sport 36 years ago with 11 championships. Stanford is next (10) with UCLA third (7). USC has two titles and with its win last season became the first institution ever to win both football and polo in the same season.
The women of Troy also won their first national championship last season.
SENIOR DAY 2004
Six Bruin seniors will play the final home match of their careers against Irvine, including Joseph Axelrad, Ted Peck, Peter Belden, Albert Garcia, Brett Ormsby and Josh Hewko.
After its convincing victory against UC Santa Barbara over the weekend, UCLA is closing in on its best regular-season record since 1972, when the Bruins went 16-1 (.941) before completing their three-match run through the NCAA Championships. Should the Bruins win both of its upcoming matches against USC and UC Irvine, they would finish the regular season 21-2 (.913) with their best winning percentage in 32 years and with the most regular-season victories since 1996… The school record for most regular season wins is 27 by the 1988 Bruins who finished 29-5.
STREAKING ON CAMPUS
With its current 14-match winning streak the Bruins are barreling down on their longest winning streak since 1995-1996 when they won 15-straight, including the final two in 1995 and the first 13 in 1996. With two wins this weekend, UCLA would tie the 1988 squad for the fifth longest streak in school history at 16. The '96 team, incidentally, went on to win NCAAs.
SCOUTING THE TROJANS
USC will enter Saturday's contest against the Bruins with an 18-3 record and a 4-2 mark in MPSF play. Back on September 19, the Trojans captured the SoCal Tournament title after hosting the annual competition in Los Angeles. The Trojans have boasted three conference players of the week in two-meter defender Juraj Zatovic, goalkeeper Don Ricci (Sept. 19) and driver Thomas Hale (Oct. 10). Like the Bruins, USC has relied on defense for success in 2004 and have posted an MPSF best 5.15 goals against average as a team. On October 3, in the schools' only prior meeting this season, UCLA defeated USC 8-6 in the semifinals of the NorCal Tournament. All-time the Bruins lead the series over the Trojans 67-56-1. Should UCLA again claim victory, the Bruins would take a 2-0 advantage in the race for the five men's water polo Lexus Gauntlet points.
SCOUTING THE ANTEATERS
UC Irvine currenlty holds a 14-8 record and a 4-2 MPSF mark. Before facing the Bruins on Sunday, the Anteaters will face off against Long Beach State on Saturday. Irvine has been led by leading scorer Dreason Barry, who scored twice against the Bruins back on September 26. In that meeting, the Bruins claimed victory 6-4 in a non-conference contest.
CLIMBING UP THE LADDER
Senior driver Ormsby, who earlier this season recorded his 200th career goal, has now moved into second-place on UCLA's all-time scoring list with 225 behind Alexis Rousseau's school record 290… Senior goalkeeper Joe Axelrad notched his 300th career save on Saturday, Oct. 30 against Stanford as he tallied a season high 14 in the match.
BRUINS IN THE POLLS
Since the October 6 release of the Men's National Collegiate Top 20 Poll, UCLA has been ranked No. 1 in the nation. The ranking marks the first time since the conclusion of the 2000 season that the Bruins have held the top spot. UCLA has gone 9-0 since earning the #1 rank.
HEAD COACH Adam Krikorian
A bastion of the UCLA men's water polo program as a player and coach, Adam Krikorian begins his sixth season as head coach for both the men's and women's programs and his 13th season with the Bruin water polo program. After sharing the head coaching duties with Guy Baker for two seasons in 1999 and 2000, Krikorian is in his fourth season alone at the helm of the two programs. A winner of nine national championships as a player and a coach, Krikorian has amassed a 111- 32 (.776) record in his six seasons with the UCLA men's team. On October 2, 2004, Krikorian notched his 100th career win with the men's team. He is second among active water polo coaches in NCAA Championships won with two.
Bruin Win Streaks
* Won final two matches in `64,
went 16-0 in `65, 15-0 in `66,
14-0 in `67 and won first three
matches in `68
**Began season 16-0
Exact dates unavailable before 1988