In any sport, facing off against an opponent three times can be as much a mental game as a physical one. With USC set to host a round-robin tournament this weekend, Cal will face UCLA for the third time in less than three weeks.
Cal has split the season series 1-1 with UCLA in two close matchups. The Bears won the first matchup in a nail-biter 17-16 finish, while the Bruins took the second game 10-7. Moreover, the stakes will be higher this match, as UCLA and Cal are tied in the standings as the second-ranked teams in the nation.
While Cal has had more rest than UCLA since their last matchup, UCLA has the advantage with momentum. The Bruins just routed No. 5 Pepperdine last week in a 15-9 blowout of a home opener. An old sports adage says you’re only as good as your last game, and UCLA looked like a top-two team in its recent performance.
Cal cannot afford to get complacent as it did in its second matchup against UCLA, where it put itself in a 7-3 deficit early on. The Bears could never dig themselves out of this hole and were fortunate to only lose the game by 3. Furthermore, UCLA has shown its impressive depth throughout the season with standout performances from a variety of players. For example, in only his first game, freshman attacker Mo Kenney had five goals on six shot attempts against the Pepperdine Waves, leading the Bruins in points.
But the blue and gold have quite the squad to counteract the Bruins’ fiery offense. Whomever the Bears decide to put at goalkeeper this game, the cage should be more than safe. Cal goalkeepers Anthony Rethans and Adrian Weinberg have been defensive savants this season: In the last matchup against the Bruins, Rethans recorded a career-high 12 saves and chipped in two steals, while in the Bears’ opening match against UCLA, Weinberg had an impressive 11 saves.
On Cal’s offensive end, expect a well-balanced attack, as the Bears have plenty of depth. Their dynamic offense was put on full display in their thrilling overtime win against UCLA: Three players chipped in two goals while freshman attacker Alika Naone led the way with three goals of his own. In the clutch, veterans Miles O’Brien-Schridde and Warren Loth did not let the moment get the best of them and each scored a goal to lead the Bears to victory. While UCLA got the best of Cal in the second matchup, the Bears still showed fight on the offensive end, with Naone and Joe Molina each scoring two goals.
As many Cal games have been this season, expect a back-and-forth game from two high-octane offenses. Both teams have superb depth and talent, so if this game does go down to the wire, it will be as much a mental battle as a physical one.
Catch the Bears taking on the Bruins at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Fans can watch the game on USC Live Stream.
Justin Kim covers women’s basketball and men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected]