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M. Water Polo: Bring on the Bruins

No. 3 Stanford versus No. 2 UCLA under the lights on a Friday night. The stage is set brilliantly for one of the most important regular season Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match-ups of the season.

“When you’re going on the road you know its going to be a crazy environment, a night game at UCLA– huge game,” redshirt junior goalie Scott Platshon said.

Redshirt junior Forrest Watkins (with ball) and the No. 3 Cardinal take on No. 2 UCLA this weekend (LARRY GE/The Stanford Daily).

This will be a match-up of two effective, but very different, offenses. UCLA leads the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in team goals with an eye-popping 14.67 goals per game. The Bruins have only have two of the top-25 scorers however, neither of whom is in the top eight, a sign of their depth.

Stanford has two players in the top 25 in scoring as well, but they have been much more prolific than UCLA’s duo. Freshman driver Brett Bonanni comes in as the conference’s second leading scorer, while sophomore utility Alex Bowen is sixth. These two have scored the vast majority of Stanford’s goals, especially of late, which could explain why Stanford is sixth out of eight teams in goals per game.

This unbalanced scoring has led to plenty of wins recently, as Stanford is on a season-high six-game winning streak. The most astounding statistic from these six games is that Bonanni has scored at least three goals in every one of them.

“[Bonanni] is starting to adjust to the level of college play and learn really how to read goalies and how to read defenses,” Platshon said.

UCLA is a step above the teams the Cardinal has been playing though, and simply trying to outscore them will not be enough without a strong defensive effort. The defense has faltered in major games this year, and even during this winning streak it has been less than airtight.

“Our offense is awesome. What’s going to determine the rest of our season is the defense,” Platshon said.

But there isn’t much season left, and every game is meaningful from here on out. Stanford has only one regular season game left after UCLA, the Senior Day game against Pepperdine. Those results will have strong postseason implications for both the MPSF Tournament and the NCAA’s.

“A win puts us in a really good spot right now,” Platshon said. “It keeps us alive in the at-large race and sets us up with a really good seed going into the MPSF Tournament.”

One factor that will make this game unusual is that it will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams. Stanford has already played each of the other top five teams at least two times this season, which is more of the norm. This year however, Stanford and UCLA did not meet during the preseason tournaments and their regular season match-up was scheduled for the second-to-last week.

“It is a little weird that we haven’t played them yet,” Platson said, adding that Stanford is fairly familiar with UCLA’s roster because they have faced those players many times in past years.

Both teams will be happy to get a full scouting report on each other, because it is very likely that their next meeting will be in the MPSF Tournament with a trip to the finals on the line.

The game is scheduled to start this Friday at 7 p.m. in Los Angeles.