LOS ANGELES, CA - Though the Bruins may own bragging rights this year on the football field, the pool still belongs to the USC Trojans.
The crosstown rivals again met for the National Championship in water polo and again USC prevailed, 11-10 over the Bruins on Sunday.
What a game. What a game. It was one of those spectacular games," USC head coach Jovan Vavic said. The opponent was outstanding. UCLA was extremely well coached in this game; prepared, ready and they executed really well. But our guys have been there before. They know how to win.
"They have a great heart.
It was the Trojans fifth - you read that right - fifth-straight national championship and the second straight - and third time in four years (2009, '11 and '12) - that they defeated their rivals from Westwood in the Championship Game. USC went 3-0 vs. UCLA this season with three one-goal victories, as the Trojans finished a perfect 29-0 and have now won 31 straight matches.
The last team to beat these Trojans, you guessed it - these Bruins, 10-9 in sudden-death on Nov. 27, 2011 in the MPSF Tournament final. The two rivals have nearly split the all-time series as the programs have met 149 times with UCLA winning 73 and USC winning 75. And of course there was 1 tie - 30 years ago.
And with that championship - guess what - the Trojans tied the Bruins with 8 men's NCAA water polo championships.
What an incredible rivalry between the two programs and this latest chapter might be the most bitter for the Bruins.
The Trojans led for only 3:37 of the 32 minutes of action in pulling off the come-from-behind win. USC trailed by as many as three goals, but locked up the game at 9-9 in the fourth period on a goal from red-shirt senior two-meter and Mira Costa High school alum Matt Burton.
It could have gone either way, and the atmosphere, we had a ton of pressure on us," Burton said. "I kind of go back to 2010 and Cal when they had the situation happen to them. And I said in my mind when we first went down, not today, its not going to happen today. Were going to get through this.' And we did.
Burton and the Trojans came back in the National Championship game in 2010, rallying to tie the game and win in OT, 12-10.
And history would repeat itself.
After UCLA's Josh Samuels answered with a goal to take a 10-9 lead, USC's Michael Rosenthal posted his third goal of the game to again tie the score with 2:25 remaining. Burton fed sophomore Kostas Genidounias for the game-winning goal with 40 seconds left to complete the comeback.
Rosenthal was named Tournament MVP. The red-shirt senior driver, like Burton, was a part of the program for all five national championships, also redshirting as a freshman in 2008.
I cant believe it honestly," Rosenthal said. "I came to California to play water polo. Im from Florida, water polo is not the biggest, most popular sport out there, but I wanted to come to SC to see how good I could get at water polo and made a decision to stay for this fifth year and, oh boy, its the best decision I ever made.
With the loss, UCLA's championship drought now reaches eight years after winning five titles from 1995-2004.
"I can't say enough about our guys," UCLA fourth-year head coach Adam Wright, the lone Bruin head coach in the program's history to not win an NCAA Championship, said. "They put us right where we wanted to be. We got off to a great start. The losses all hurt, but this one really hurts. We were in a great situation up by one with three minutes to go. But you have to give credit to USC. They've won five times in a row now, which is not easy to do."
But the game was not without controversy - as is the case with most great rivalry games.
It was a very interesting game," Wright said. "A games rhythm can be controlled not only by the players, but by others. For instance, I think about the 11-5 exclusions, I think about the ball resting on the lane line. We fought a great battle today. We knew we were up against the world. It will be really interesting to watch tape of that last goal.
Its a game of momentum and it can be stopped in many ways. Today it was stopped in an unfortunate way.
Vavic added, The officiating is such a huge part of our game and when you win, you love it. And win you lose, you hate it. Theres no way around it.
It was the eighth championship for Vavic in his 18 years at the helm of the Trojan program and he is already looking forward to No. 9.
The mens team is going to win it, again, next year," the 10-time National Coach of the Year said. "Im not going anywhere. Were going to win it next year. Write it down.
Not if UCLA has anything to say about it.