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UCLA Stays Focused on Its Goal

Water polo: Bruins defeat California, 6-5, to win conference tournament and automatic berth in NCAA final four.


Considering the turmoil surrounding the UCLA men's water polo team, it wasn't a surprise that the Bruins struggled to defeat California in Sunday's championship game of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.

But UCLA got the job done, beating the Bears, 6-5, at the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Center to earn an automatic berth in the NCAA final four, which begins Saturday at Pepperdine.

Pepperdine's upset victory in the third-place game over previously top-ranked UC Irvine appears to make USC the favorite for the lone final four wild-card spot. The NCAA is expected to announce the wild-card team today.

UCLA (21-3), which beat the Bears three previous times by an average of four goals, knew it needed to win Sunday to advance. As many as 18 UCLA wins this season may be declared forfeits because Bruin All-American Adam Wright has been declared ineligible by the Pacific 10 Conference, essentially because of a paperwork error.

The NCAA is expected to allow UCLA to play in the final four regardless of the pending decision. Wright, who lives in Seal Beach, did not play in the conference tournament.

"It's been up and down for a month," said Bruin senior driver Brian Brown, formerly of Foothill High. "But we finally said as a group, 'Whatever happens, happens. Let's go play polo. We knew we had to come out and win three in a row here."

Brown put UCLA ahead for good, 4-3, with 2 minutes 30 seconds left in the third quarter with his fourth goal of the game, a skip shot from seven meters.

The Bruins went ahead, 6-4, on a seven-meter shot by former Brea Olinda High driver Matt Flescher with 4:24 to play.

Cal's Eldad Hazor cut the lead to 6-5 with a goal with 39 seconds left, but UCLA ran out the time.

Pepperdine 8, UC Irvine, 7. The Waves jumped to a 5-2 first-quarter lead before the Anteaters (20-7) rallied to tie the game, 5-5, with 49 seconds left in the second quarter on John Dorfi's rebound goal off the hands of Pepperdine goalie Michael Soltis.

But the Waves (14-12) rebuilt a three-goal cushion thanks in part to five third-quarter saves by Soltis. Goals by Dan Hayes and Andy Coffman cut Pepperdine's lead to 8-7 with 4:43 left in the match, but the Anteaters failed to score on a power play in the final 1:16.

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