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Photo by Twitter / Cal Men's Water Polo

Top-Seeded Bears Storm Into NCAA Title Match

December 3, 2022

BERKELEY – The top-seeded Cal men's water polo team blitzed Pacific early and often and rolled to a resounding 16-9 victory in the semifinals of the 2022 NCAA Championship on Saturday at rainy Spieker Aquatics Complex.

The Bears (22-2) will face USC in the national championship match for the second year in a row on Sunday at 3 p.m. PT. The game will air on ESPNU.

Cal defeated the Trojans 13-12 in last year's final to win its 15th NCAA crown – the most all-time for men's water polo.

USC defeated second-seeded UCLA 15-12 in Saturday's other semifinal match in Berkeley.

UOP scored the game's first goal but the Bears proceeded to hold the Tigers scoreless for the next 11 minutes, 22 seconds while racing out to a 5-1 lead with 3:34 remaining in the first half.

Pacific scored a goal with one second left in the first half to cut Cal's advantage to 7-3, but the Bears held the Tigers without a goal for another four minutes and built a 9-3 advantage. When sophomore Max Casabella scored the last of his game-high four goals with 4:41 to play, the Bears held a 14-6 lead.

Cal goalie Adrian Weinberg had one of his best performances of the season, registering 13 saves and leveraging his presence in the cage to force the Tigers into lower-quality shots. The Bears recorded four field blocks and eight steals as a team.

 "We were executing well on offense early and they missed a few shots," Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. "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."

Casabella added a pair of assists while senior Jack Deely had three goals and an assist. Freshman Albert Ponferrada contributed four assists.

Cal also held the Tigers to just a 2-for-10 performance on the power play.

"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."

The lopsided victory not only put the Bears into the NCAA title match for the second straight season, it followed a significantly different script than an earlier meeting between the teams in Berkeley on Sept. 9. Cal was forced to mount a fourth-quarter comeback and ultimately notched a 16-15 victory in overtime.

"I was a little bit concerned that we might come out scared because of that (previous game)," 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."

The seven-goal margin was the most lopsided NCAA semifinal result since Stanford defeated UC San Diego 16-7 in 2018.

The Bears will attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back NCAA championships since UCLA took the title in both 2014-15.

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Top-Seeded Bears Storm Into NCAA Title Match

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