With their star player back in tow, the Bruins eked out a couple of close wins on the road.
No. 1 UCLA men's water polo (9-0) beat No. 6 Long Beach State (8-1) on Friday and No. 5 UC Santa Barbara (11-2) on Saturday. Both wins came by three or fewer goals, something the Bruins had only had to do twice through their first seven matches.
The matchup with the previously unbeaten Long Beach State was UCLA's first true away game of the season, playing six contests at neutral sites and one at home leading up to Friday. Along with the new environment came a new face to the lineup – at least new to this year's team.
Nicolas Saveljic made his first appearance of the season after missing the Bruins' first seven games. Saveljic won the Cutino Award for the nation's best men's water polo player on September 2 after setting records and rewriting school and NCAA record books in the spring season as part of UCLA's national title team.
In his first match back, Saveljic was the Bruins' most active player on the offensive side of the pool, but did not return with his trademark production.
Saveljic attempted the most shots on UCLA and second most of any player Friday and was only able to score a single goal. No one Bruin was able to take over the match, as no player on the team finished with multiple scores.
Junior attacker Tommy Gruwell chipped in with his lone goal of the night in the final seconds of the first quarter, putting UCLA up 2-1 and avoiding going into the second quarter tied. The Bruins nearly shut out the Beach in the second frame, only for a last-second goal by their opponent to make it 5-2 at the half. Saveljic and redshirt sophomore utility Giorgio Alessandria scored to give UCLA an 8-3 advantage midway through the third.
The match ended 9-6 thanks to a 3-1 run by Long Beach State down the stretch, but UCLA had built in enough of a cushion to secure the victory.
Saveljic was even more active Saturday at UC Santa Barbara.
He attempted twice as many shots as his next highest-ranked teammate with eight, converting on a team-high four of them. Saveljic's goal less than four minutes into the match gave UCLA a 2-1 lead, and they would stay ahead until the waning moments of the opening half.
The Gauchos scored three unanswered in a two-minute span to round out the second quarter. Saveljic helped recreate some separation by scoring twice and completing his hat trick in the third quarter, and his dagger with 1:37 left in the match put things away for good.
UCLA won 12-10 and swam away from the road trip still perfect on the season.
UC Santa Barbara is 11-0 this season against teams other than UCLA this fall, but the Bruins bested them 14-12 at the Triton Invitational on Sept. 5 and did it again Saturday.
Sophomore goalkeeper Garrett Griggs was in net for all 32 minutes of both contests over the weekend. Griggs made eight saves against the Beach and then seven against the Gauchos, but his save percentage of 41.2% Saturday marked the second time he saved fewer than 50% of the shots thrown his way this season – both of which came against UC Santa Barbara.
To round out its first month of play, UCLA will head up to Berkeley for the MPSF Invitational starting Friday with its undefeated record on the line. The tournament will be three days long and also include top-ranked foes such as Stanford, California, USC, UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State.
The Bruins will open things up against the winner of Pacific and Pepperdine on Saturday at 10:40 a.m.