Dec. 5, 2009

 

Championship Preview: Crosstown Rivals Square Off In Dream Matchup

 

By John Marks
Special to NCAA.com

PRINCETON, N.J. -
So much for the home pool advantage.

Playing indoors for the first time all season, top-ranked USC looked quite at ease while host Princeton seemed like a team lost at sea on Saturday.

The defending champion Trojans scored just 27 seconds into play, added two more goals in the next three minutes and never looked back as they routed the Tigers 13-3 to earn a date with UCLA in Sunday's Men's Water Polo championship game.

J.W. Krumpholz scored three unanswered second period goals to help the Trojans break it open, as USC took a boisterous pro-Princeton DeNunzio Pool crowd out of the game early.

Shea Buckner, Jordan Thompson and Matt Sagehorn added two apiece as the Trojans surged to an 8-0 half time lead to virtually settle the issue.

That came as a huge relief to USC coach Jovan Vavic, who leads his team to a record fifth straight title game 2 p.m.  on Sunday against rival cross-town rival UCLA.

"That was very important," said Vavic, who also got goals from Justin Rappel, Nico Sardo, Brian Boswell and Kyle Sterling.  "I was worried about this game.

"We hadn't seen Princeton since early in the year (a 14-3 blowout Oct. 9 in Los Angeles). When you don't know what to expect you may be surprised.

"We played them differently the first time.  Today we played more zone. We were very worried about some of the match ups."
It was needless worry, as the 15-12 Tigers dug such a huge hole it was impossible to climb out.

"We thought it would be a tremendous advantage having the tournament here," said Princeton's Eric Vreeland, who scored his team's second goal after Matt Hale had connected early in the third.  "We hoped the crowd could give us a boost. But letting a team come out of the gate like that was one thing we couldn't let happen and it did. We didn't give them a lot to cheer about today."

Of course, USC (25-2) had plenty to do with that. And Vavic's decision to bring his team to New Jersey early to acclimate themselves to the pool and the atmosphere paid immediate dividends.

"Coach did a good job getting us prepared," said Buckner, who expressed concern prior to the game that arena noise make it difficult for his teammates to communicate with each other.

"(But) we got used to the pool and the conditions (and) that helped us.  When we got off an early lead it kind of calmed the crowd down. "

The Tigers had hoped to play a more disciplined game to slow down USC's explosive attack and wait for the frustrated Trojans to make mistakes. It never materialized once Sagehorn quickly got USC on the board, then Buckner and Thompson followed to make it 3-0 after just 3:44.

"Our whole plan was to keep it close early," said veteran Princeton coach Luis Nicolao, who'll face Loyola Marymount in the consolation game.  "I knew they wanted to take it to us early.  Unfortunately we made a couple of mistakes and they made us pay.

"We knew we couldn't afford to get in a shootout with these guys, but we didn't execute . Maybe it was nervousness or excitement. But they're so talented.  I wish we could've done things differently and I know we can play better.  They dropped their defense the whole game, which is not something we've faced.  That made it a perimeter game. And they have better shooters than we do."

The Trojans expected nothing less than another championship game appearance.

"Being a USC Trojan to me means tradition," said Krumpholz, a member of the U.S. Olympic team who'll be playing in his third straight final. "Our program strives to be in the national championship game every year.

"We were lucky enough to win it last year. Now we've earned the chance to come back."

Standing in their way in the water will be the Bruins, who needed Cole Consani's goal with 37 seconds left in overtime to claim a 9-8 victory over Loyola-Marymount, a team they had beaten handily just a few weeks ago.

Being 3,000 miles from home, the two California schools playing for water polo's biggest prize at least won't have to worry about home pool advantage.