Nov. 27, 2011
LOS ANGELES - Cristiano Mirarchi scored the game-winning goal in sudden-victory overtime, sending the No. 3-seed UCLA men's water polo team past No. 1-seed USC, 10-9, in the MPSF Tournament's championship match Sunday evening at Spieker Aquatics Center.
Mirarchi's shot came 54 seconds into the game's third overtime session (first sudden victory period) and with just seven seconds remaining on the shot clock. The game-winning goal set off a wild celebration from the UCLA bench, as the Bruins (23-4) clinched their second MPSF Tournament title in the last three seasons.
UCLA never trailed in Sunday's match against USC (22-3), advancing to the four-team NCAA Tournament that will be played Dec. 3-4 at California in Berkeley, Calif.
"This feels really good, especially since we lost to USC at our pool last week," Mirarchi said. "We're really excited. We're looking forward to the NCAA Tournament, and we'll be able to use today's game as momentum going into next weekend."
UCLA received one goal from each of 10 players.
In a thrilling contest played before 1,496 at UCLA's home pool, USC overcame an early 5-1 deficit, tying the contest 5-5 midway through the third quarter. The Trojans rallied in the fourth quarter from a 7-5 hole, forcing two three-minute overtime sessions.
Sunday's championship match marked UCLA's third overtime game in as many MPSF Tournament contests this weekend. The Bruins improved to 4-0 on the season in overtime contests.
"This team showed that they are resilient," UCLA head coach Adam Wright said. "To play three overtime games in this tournament is not easy. I couldn't be more proud. If you don't commit to each other, then you're going to be in trouble. These guys stuck together as a team and played for each other."
In the first overtime period, Paul Reynolds scored on a lob shot with 1:59 to play, putting UCLA ahead, 8-7. USC answered quickly scoring 18 seconds later on a power-play goal from Jeremy Davie at two meters.
UCLA's Aimone Barabino scored on a 6-on-5 opportunity with 56 seconds left in the first overtime to give the Bruins a 9-8 advantage. With 1:42 to play in the second three-minute overtime session, USC's Peter Kurzeka tied the contest, 9-9.
After USC turned over their opening possession in sudden-victory overtime due to an offensive foul, Mirarchi notched the game-winning goal, his second such goal in sudden victory overtime this season. Mirarchi duplicated a feat he accomplished in a 13-12 MPSF win over Pacific at Spieker Aquatics Center on Nov. 4, 2011.
"Our team got off to a good start - a picture-perfect way to start the game," Wright said. "We had a balanced attack with different guys scoring goals. But you can't work so hard early on, only to let them get back in the game. Our center play was excellent. We're looking forward to playing for the national championship next weekend."
No. 2-seed UCLA will face No. 3-seed UC San Diego in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 3. Game time at California's Spieker Aquatic Complex is 3 p.m. (PT). No. 1-seed USC will play No. 4-seed Princeton that day at 1 p.m. (PT).
The Bruins will be making their its 28th appearance at the NCAA Tournament, its first since advancing to the championship match in Dec. 2009. Two years ago, UCLA dropped a 6-5 decision to USC in the title contest at Princeton University.
UCLA last won the NCAA Championship in 2004 with a 10-9 overtime victory at Stanford.
No. 1-seed USC vs. No. 3-seed UCLA (MPSF Championship Game)
USC Goals: Kostas Genidounias 2, Nikola Vavic 2, Jeremy Davie, Peter Kurzeka, Forest Monroe, Michael Rosenthal, Stephen Siri
USC Saves: Joel Dennerley 9