Getting strong play from its defense, the top-seeded Cal men’s water polo team quickly shifted into high gear at the other end of the pool and scored a dominant 16-9 victory over Pacific in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships at Spieker Aquatics Complex under rainy skies on the Berkeley campus.
The Bears (22-2) will try to capture their second straight national title when they face USC (19-6) in the championship match Sunday at 3 p.m. The game will be shown on ESPNU.
Cal is attempting to become the first team to win consecutive NCAA crowns in the sport since UCLA pulled it off in 2014 and ’15.
Pacific (22-7) took Cal to overtime back on Sept. 9 before the Bears prevailed 16-15. The Tigers weren’t able to stay with the Bears in the rematch.
The seven-goal margin was the most lopsided NCAA semifinal result since Stanford defeated UC San Diego 16-7 in 2018.
"I was a little bit concerned that we might come out scared because of that (previous game)," goalie Adrian Weinberg said. "I'm glad none of us did. I think our team knows that we can do a lot, so we were thinking about it but it wasn't something that was going to set us back. It was just something that motivated us to do better."
Weinberg had 13 saves and directed the Bears’ defense, making life tough for Pacific.
"We were executing well on offense early and they missed a few shots," Cal coach Kirk Everist says in the video above. "Adrian made a couple great blocks. They missed a couple opportunities and you kind of felt like we dodged a bullet there. Then all of the sudden you're up 4-1, and then we just kept playing well offensively the whole game and our defense was good.”
Sophomore Max Casabella had four goals and two assists, senior Jack Deely scored three times and Nikolaos Papanikolaou and Warren Loth each recorded two goals for the Bears. Freshman Albert Ponferrada chipped in four assists.
The Bears recorded four field blocks and eight steals and limited Pacific to two goals on 10 power-play opportunities.
"It's reading plays that are happening instead of just reacting to what they do," Weinberg said. "UOP has really great shooters. I think it says a lot about us to make the cage seem small. We were able to play together as a team.”
Mihailo Vukazic scored three goals for the Tigers.
USC beat crosstown rival and second-seeded UCLA 15-12 to advance to the championship game.
Cal topped the Trojans 13-12 in last year’s title game to win the program’s 15th national crown, most of any school.
The Bears beat USC in both of their regular-season matchups, winning 11-10 and 14-10.
Cover photo of Max Casabella by Cathryn Hayne, KLC fotos
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo