No. 1 USC Blasts Past No. 4 Cal In Nationally Televised MPSF Opener
Sept. 23, 2012
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- The top-ranked USC men's water polo team made a second-half stand against visiting No. 4 California today, pairing stingy defense with three stinging scores to surge to a 7-6 comeback win in the MPSF opener at McDonald's Swim Stadium. In a rare nationally televised game on ESPNU, the Trojans kept their 2012 slate clean with the win over the Bears. The game-winner came from a patient Nikola Vavic, who served up his first goal of the game with 1:38 left to play in the fourth frame, leaving the Trojan defense to clamp down on Cal the rest of the way for the victory. The win gives USC head coach Jovan Vavic his 400th career win on the men's side of the game, as USC improves to 9-0 on the year while taking a 1-0 start to MPSF play. Cal goes to 7-3, 0-1.
After trailing by two goals on two occasions in the second period, the Trojans regrouped and battled back to tie on back-to-back goals from Kostas Genidounias. After cutting a 5-3 Cal lead to 5-4 with an even slider a minute away from halftime, Genidounias would strike again late in the third period. The sophomore's spin and finish evened the count at 5-5 with 1:41 to go in the third, as the Trojan defense took care of the rest with a shutout of the Bears in that frame. A pesky Trojan defense would interrupt numerous Cal offensive series, as USC took the ball away from the Bears seven times in the third period of play.
Cal returned the favor with a steal on USC's opening possession of the fourth, taking it the other way for a counterattack strike from Aleksa Saponjic. His second goal of the game gave Cal a 6-5 lead, but USC was up to the challenge. Two minutes later, Genidounias served up the ball for Mace Rapsey, who ripped in the equalizer for the Trojans with 5:25 on the clock. USC goalie James Clark knocked down a dangerous close-range Cal shot soon after, and after a missed USC 6-on-5 opportunity the Trojans put a stop to a Cal power play on the other end with a takeaway from Genidounias. After a string of misses on 6-on-5 chances, the Trojans made good on a big one next. Nikola Vavic slotted his first of the day with a low shot to the right post, and USC was up 7-6 with 1:38 to go for its first lead since the first quarter of play. USC's defense remained in control, crashing Cal to force two key turnovers down the stretch, including a final stab from Jack Plaga whose pressure put the ball back in Trojan hands with 35 seconds left. Clark would haul in Cal's last-gasp shot -- his ninth of the day -- and the Trojans had a big MPSF win in the books in front of a national audience.
Although USC had opened up with the first goal of the day on a 6-on-5 strike from Michael Rosenthal, Cal looked to have the USC defense on its heels with a 4-for-4 effort on 6-on-5 chances in the first half. The Bears would miss two penalty shots, however, nailing the frame on both tries in each of the first two frames. Rex Butler delivered a go-ahead goal for USC in the first for a 2-1 lead, but Cal answered with back-to-back scores to take a 3-2 lead on a buzzer beater to close the first period. Another Cal power play was finished off early in the second for a 4-2 Cal advantage, and although USC cut back to 4-3 on a slick 6-on-5 series that saw Genidounias hit Jeremy Davie for a big blast from the post, Cal would pad the lead back to two 25 seconds later to get a 5-3 lead. Genidounias' first was the one that brought USC within one goal, and that 5-4 edge held for the Trojans as Cal missed its second 5-meter penalty shot moments later, bringing up USC's second-half surge to victory.
In finally cracking Cal goalie Jon Sibley -- who finished with 12 saves in the game -- Vavic's game-winner in the fourth notched the junior's 117th career goal, pulling him into a tie at No. 20 all-time in USC's career scoring chart.
The Trojans now turn to a busy week ahead, where USC will play five games in three day. First up in a nonconference clash with Princeton at 12 p.m. on Friday (Sept. 28) at McDonald's Swim Stadium. The top-ranked Trojans will then head to Santa Barbara, Calif., for action at the SoCal Tournament, which runs Sept. 29-30.
#1 USC 7, #4 California 6
SAVES: James Clark (USC) 9, Jon Sibley (CAL) 12