Coach Adam Wright repeated the words as he spoke to reporters after UCLA women’s water polo’s quarterfinals win in the NCAA tournament.
Big. Huge. Massive.
He wasn’t talking about the No. 3-seed Bruins’ 13-7 win over Michigan. It was the next day that already consumed his attention — the semifinals game against No. 2-seed Stanford, set for 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The Cardinal cruised through their quarterfinal matchup by beating Pacific 18-9.
For years USC (27-1) and Stanford (21-2) have established themselves as the teams to beat, and for years UCLA (24-6) has fallen just short of beating them. Each of the last nine national championships was a victory for the Trojans or the Cardinal. UCLA was runner-up three times.
On Saturday the Bruins aim to break past that upper echelon.
“It’s gonna come down to the very little details tomorrow,” junior Maddie Musselman said. “And I think we’re all very excited for the opportunity… to play them.”
The first three quarters UCLA struggled against Michigan. The Wolverines had long possessions while limiting the Bruins’ scoring chances. After the first quarter, UCLA led by a goal.
It took one minute for the Bruins to take a three-goal lead in the second quarter, which they maintained until halftime, though UCLA struggled to swing momentum in its favor. When the Bruins scored off of Michigan’s rare defensive lapses, the Wolverines responded with an aggression that kept the contest tight.
It was not until the fourth quarter that UCLA finally broke free, when the Bruins ballooned their lead to six goals behind a stifling defense. This followed a tight third quarter, where their advantage held in part thanks to luck — a missed Michigan penalty shot and other would-be scores that bounced off the crossbar.
“There just can’t be free goals against a team like Stanford,” Wright said. “You know, if we really want to be the best team in the country, those things have got to get cleaned up. Because the next time they could just as well be goals.”
The Bruins have started slow against Stanford in the past, but Wright is not concerned about that. As long as the team plays with the right energy, he said, it can emerge victorious.
“It’s a huge opportunity…” Wright said. “’Cause the moment’s coming. And it’s either we’re gonna be ready, or we gotta go back to the drawing board and get back to work.”
USC ADVANCES TO SEMIFINALS
USC’s victory over UC San Diego started as a much closer contest than expected, though the Trojans eventually won 14-8. USC only led by two goals at halftime, and one came in the first half’s final minute.
Not that tight competition is a bad thing.
“If anything, it helped us get our mojo back,” senior Amanda Longan said.
The Tritons slowed the pace and forced the Trojans to miss shots early. USC coach Casey Moon said the team was too “anxious to play” after two weeks without any games. But the Trojans snapped out of it in the third quarter, scoring six goals to secure the win and advance.
The Trojans will face No. 4-seed California (17-8) at 3 p.m. on Saturday in the semifinals. California defeated Hawaii 17-13 in Friday’s quarterfinals.
“I think a fight is always good for us,” USC senior Courtney Fahey said. “It gets our momentum going and allows us to kind of refocus.”