USC Coach Jovan Vavic, shown during a scrimmage last season, called the… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
USC trailed Air Force briefly in its NCAA men's water polo semifinal Saturday at McDonald's Swim Stadium. So technically the host Trojans rallied for an 18-7 victory to stay undefeated this season and remain alive for their fifth straight title.
UCLA will be the opponent Sunday at 3 p.m. The Bruins never trailed St. Francis of Brooklyn in their 17-3 victory in Saturday's second semifinal.
The Trojans are 28-0 this year and have beaten UCLA twice, but not easily, 7-6 and 10-9. The Bruins are the last team to beat the Trojans, 10-9 last November.
USC Coach Jovan Vavic called the Trojans' play sloppy and said his team was looking ahead to the championship. He also gave big credit to Air Force goalie Mike Fish, a senior from Manhattan Beach who made several dramatic saves, including one ball that ricocheted off his face. Two of the early saves helped Air Force briefly take a 2-1 lead.
But USC, with the help of five goals from sophomore Kostas Genidounias, was never truly in trouble. Vavic's son Nikola Vavic, a junior, added three goals and became the Trojans' all-time scoring leader with 82 in his career.
Griffin White had four goals to lead the Bruins (28-4) back to the finals for the third time in four years. UCLA last won the title in 2004, with USC taking last year's championship game, 7-4.
St. Francis Coach Igor Samardzija said it was "hard to watch" his team play against UCLA because, he said, "We didn't do ourselves justice when it mattered the most." Samardzija he felt USC will have "a slight advantage" in Sunday's championship. "Maybe it would be ungrateful to predict," he said, "so I'll say USC in overtime, sudden death maybe."
UCLA Coach Adam Wright said he expects Sunday's championship to be a madhouse.
"I hope it's pouring rain, something crazy, that's what we've been talking about all week," Wright said. "USC, UCLA, right here. What else could we want? It's all about us tomorrow, how we react as individuals and as a group."