NCAA WATER POLO CHAMPIONSHIPS : Top-Ranked Stanford Hoping for a Sequel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not much seems to to be in the way of Stanford and its second consecutive national championship in water polo.

Maybe only three days.

Stanford (24-1) will play eighth-seeded Air Force (18-9) today at noon in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Belmont Plaza Pool in Long Beach.

The tournament runs through Sunday, and by that time Stanford figures to be celebrating.

It almost looks too easy. Even Stanford Coach Dante Dettamanti has a hard time finding anything wrong.

"I really don't see any weaknesses," Dettamanti said of his team. "We score when we need to, and the defense is coming around at the right time--we're really coming together in all phases of the game."

Stanford's only loss was to California in double overtime early in the season at Berkeley.

Led by senior driver Wolf Wigo, who has 55 points, the Cardinal has outscored opponents, 318-180.

Wigo is the leading candidate to be voted player of the year by the coaches and is certain to be a four-time All-American. If teams focus on shutting him down, Stanford gets all the help it needs from Jeremy Laster, who scored 49 points, 32 from beyond the seven-meter two-point line.

The main threat to Stanford would appear to be second-seeded USC. The Trojans lost two All-Americans and five players with significant playing time overall and might have figured on a rebuilding year, but sophomores Marko Zagar and Hrvoje Cizmic of Croatia changed that when they joined the program this fall. Cizmic and Zagar are the Trojans' top two scorers.

But USC (17-6) has a bit of the bridesmaid syndrome--they have been runner-up three times and never won a championship.

This year does not figure to be different. Five of USC's six losses have been to Stanford.

Notes

In the other games today, second-seeded USC will play seventh-seeded Navy (25-5) at 1:30 p.m., third-seeded California (19-9) will play sixth-seeded Massachusetts (30-6) at 3:30 and fourth-seeded Pepperdine (15-8) will play UCLA (16-12) at 5. The tournament will continue Saturday with consolation semifinals at 2:30 p.m. and 4, and championship semifinals at 6:30 and 8. . . .Sunday's games will start at noon, with the final at 4:30 p.m.

Cal has won 11 championships in the 25 years of the tournament, and has been runner-up five times. Stanford has won six titles and been runner-up three times.

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