Lights, camera, action. With the Pac-12 Network broadcast crew up and running on the pool deck, the Bears were anything but camera-shy. The No. 4-ranked Cal men’s water polo team pulled out the upset against No. 3 UCLA, 9-7, in front of a packed home crowd and the thousands more who tuned in on from the comfort of their own couches.
A sport like water polo does not have the luxury of having its games shown nationally on a consistent basis, if ever. When it was all said and done, the two squads proved why this game was deserving of a television slot.
With Spieker Aquatics Complex rocking, the Bears took control early and relied on their trademark defense to carry them to victory.
Shortly after the opening sprint, Cal found the back of the net in the first quarter on junior Jordan Hoover’s goal. That first lead of the game was one that the Bears would not relinquish for the rest of the afternoon.
“Jordan getting a natural goal early out of center really set the tone that (UCLA’s defense) is going to have to drop back and help because we are not just working for ejections, we are trying to score,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist.
Sophomore Nikos Delagrammatikas stepped up with two first-half goals to build a 5-3 advantage for Cal that the team took into halftime. While UCLA focused its defensive efforts on other shooters, the lane opened for Delagrammatikas to turn a cameo into a leading role.
By his standards, senior Johnny Hooper was limited on the offensive, where he usually shines. That being said, Hooper still joined Delagrammatikas at the top of the score sheet with a pair of goals, but that was not his most noteworthy statistic of the day. Hooper finished with four steals and was a shutdown defender all game long.
Going into the final quarter, the Bears held a 7-4 lead, but the Bruins mounted a mini-comeback to thicken the plot — so much so that UCLA was able to narrow the margin to 6-7 with just over two minutes left in the game.
“There was a point there in the fourth quarter where we stopped moving, and that could be due to fatigue,” Everist said. “We tried to manage our subrotations, but there were extended minutes for some guys.”
UCLA had the chance to tie the game, but senior Vassilis Tzavaras came up with a clutch steal to stop the Bruins in their tracks. In the ensuing offensive possession, Cal was able to draw a penalty shot that Hooper easily converted to give the Bears an 8-6 cushion with less than a minute remaining.
Last-ditch goals were scored for both teams in the final seconds, but it had no effect on the end result. It was official — Cal avenged the loss of two weeks prior to the Bruins. Now the Bears can roll into the rest of the MPSF schedule, but they will go one take at a time.
“We aren’t worried about the conference tournament or the NCAA tournament; our goal right now is to see if we can win the regular-season conference title,” Everist said.
Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].