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UCLA men's water polo team advances to NCAA semifinal showdown with USC

UCLA men's water polo team advances to NCAA semifinal showdown with USC
UCLA water polo coach Adam Wright, center, coaches his team during a game against Stanford on Nov. 3. (Minette Rubin / UCLA Athletics)

The UCLA men’s water polo team stood motionless around coach Adam Wright, absorbing the frustration in his speech.

“Are you ready to play or not?” Wright shouted to his team, in a circle on the pool deck as George Washington players waited in the water.

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Their play riddled with errors, the Bruins did not appear prepared for the NCAA tournament at first. But by the time UCLA completed an 18-6 victory at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center, Wright felt renewed confidence in his team. The game, he said, allowed the Bruins to correct their mistakes before facing USC in the semifinals Saturday.

“We needed that,” Wright said. “Because moving forward, there can’t be any slip-ups.”

UCLA only needed 23 seconds to take the lead, with a goal from sophomore Nicholas Saveljic beginning a 4-0 run.

But the Colonials slowed the Bruins while scoring two goals to trail 5-2 after the first quarter. UCLA committed turnovers and took shots under pressure that veered wide of the goal, as Wright paced the pool deck with folded arms.

“There’s no more second chances,” Wright said. “There’s no tomorrow. … We have to take advantage of every second that we’re here, and we weren’t doing it.”

The Bruins scored seconds after the meeting with Wright and took a 9-3 lead at the half. UCLA (23-4) added six goals in the third quarter while holding George Washington (23-7) scoreless.

The Bruins took a 17-5 lead with less than six minutes to play on a goal by Saveljic, who scored three Thursday. For Saveljic, remembering the start of the season makes the arrival of the NCAA tournament seem surreal.

“We’ve been working for this moment,” Saveljic said, adding: “We’re locked in, dialed in. We are ready.”

Wright saw improvements in UCLA’s transition plays, among other areas. He is confident in the Bruins’ work ethic, motivation and growth, but to reach the national championship match, they must realize their potential — and eliminate errors.

“Hopefully we’ll be our best when your best is needed,” Wright said. “And if we can do that, then we’ll have our shot.”

UC San Diego 14, Long Beach State 9: Behind a strong second half, the Tritons (20-5) eliminated the 49ers (14-12) to set up a semifinal matchup with Stanford.

Late in the second quarter, UC San Diego held a 4-2 lead. Goals by Luke Ritter and Curtis Casper allowed Long Beach to make it 4-4 at the half.

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The Tritons outscored the 49ers 4-1 in the third and went on to a convincing win.

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