BERKELEY, Calif. - The UC San Diego men's water polo team is headed to the consolation game at the NCAA Championships after UCLA downed the Tritons 10-1 in the national semifinals on Saturday afternoon at Spieker Aquatic Center on the campus of UC Berkeley.
UCSD will face Princeton at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday to decide who takes home third place. UCLA and USC will play at 3:00 p.m. for the national championship.
"I will certainly speak on behalf of the team. We're disappointed," said UCSD head coach Denny Harper. "UCLA is a very, very good water polo team, and I wish them luck tomorrow against USC."
Unable to develop a wealth of scoring opportunities early on, UCSD relied on its defense to keep the Tritons within striking distance in the opening half. David Morton made a point-blank save on Griffin White and won another scrum in front of the net with Chris Wendt. UCLA eventually got on the board on their fourth possession as Cullen Hennessey took advantage of an open lane along the right side.
Down 2-0 , the Tritons cut the deficit in half on their third possession of the second quarter. After Brett Lathrope was ejected for pulling down Graham Saber on the outside, the Tritons worked the ball around the perimeter of the offense to find an open shot. As the man-advantage expired, Saber tossed the ball inside to Matthew Michalko, who rose to meet the ball at two meters before firing a quick shot to the left post past UCLA keeper Matt Rapacz.
UCSD drew an ejection in the back court to take a man-advantage for the second consecutive trip down the pool. Danny Lorch found space at three meters on a Triton set play, but his attempt to pull the Tritons even missed wide.
Morton kept the score at 2-1 by forcing Josh Samels to hit the post on a break away and then stonewalling Samuels at the front post with 2:30 left in the half. John Butler tried a skip shot from six meters out, but it was blocked off the post by a UCLA defender.
The Bruins were able to work it inside lwith a minute left, as Wendt passed it down to Daniel Lenhart at about four-meters. He took a couple of fakes with the left hand before firing a shot inside the right post to make it 3-1. After a turnover in UCSD's offensive end, the Bruins were able to draw an ejection on Josh Stiling as he battled with Wendt on the inside. Hennessey took advantage of the extra-man, converting from three meters to make it 4-1 with eight seconds remaining.
"We're disappointed. I thought that the first half we played some pretty good defense. To be down at half 4-1, it was at least still doable," said Harper.
UCLA used the momentum it gained just before the half to put the game away in the third quarter. Morton made a save on Lenhart's outside shot, but the Bruins were able to punch home the rebound to make it 5-1 on their first possession. Lathrope extended UCLA's lead to five before Lathrope fired a shot bar-in from six meters out on the right side to make it 7-1.
Brian Donohoe recorded the Tritons' best chance to score in the second half, as Butler lobbed a ball inside from the right flank for him at the goal mouth. Donohoe powered to meet the pass, but Rapacz slapped away his attempt from a meter out. After the Bruins made it 8-1, Rapacz made another big save, this time on a skip shot by Joe Dietrich. Samuels duplicated Dietrich's skip attempt on UCLA's next possession, beating Morton to give UCLA a 9-1 advantage.
Donohoe had another chance to break the Tritons' stalemate, but UCLA's Nate Hartshorne was up to the task on Donohoe's only shot of the fourth. The Bruins blanked the Tritons in the final stanza, tacking on a penalty shot to make it 10-1. UCLA scored eight unanswered to finish the contest.
"The issue in this game for us was our frontcourt offense. We just could not generate a lot of offense. We could not get very many quality shots. Obviously, our six on five opportunities, we didn't put those away," said Harper.
UCSD will have a chance to play for third place at the NCAA championship for the sixth time in program history. The Tritons took home third place the last time they were at the NCAA Championship in 2006 when they topped Navy, 12-8. UCSD is 3-2 all-time in the NCAA third-place game.
"I hate playing a third-place game. It's always challenging," said Harper. "When we come here, we plan to win that national championship game. The third-place game, I would say is usually about entertainment. I anticipate that it is going to be a pretty close, hard-fought game."