LOS ANGELES — Led by sophomore Matt Russell’s three goals and 11 saves from sophomore goalie Jon Sibley, Cal put itself in the championship match of the 2012 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament with a 12-9 victory against UCLA on Saturday in the tournament semifinal. The Golden Bears (17-7), who have won seven matches in a row, will next battle host USC in the title match on Sunday at McDonald’s Swim Stadium.
Cal defeated the Bruins (26-4) without its two top scorers — junior Collin Smith (61 goals) and sophomore Aleksa Saponjic (45) — who were not able to play against UCLA after being called for flagrant fouls in Friday’s 11-9 win against Pepperdine. Saponjic had led the Bears with four goals against the Waves, while Smith added three goals.
Before Saturday’s match, the Bruins had defeated the Bears 11-10 in overtime on Sept. 16 at the NorCal tournament and upended Cal 10-9 in sudden death overtime on Oct. 6 in Berkeley. UCLA also defeated Cal 7-6 in overtime in last year’s MPSF tournament semifinal at UCLA to knock the Bears out of the 2011 NCAA tournament.
“The win over UCLA was an excellent team effort,” Cal coach Kirk Everist said. “The team has played short-handed a lot this year but they continue to step up. Not having Aleksa (Saponjic) and Collin (Smith) was tough, yet we came out and played great. There is definitely no quit in these guys.”
The Bears took control of the match early, jumping out to a 4-1 lead after the opening eight minutes and were able to maintain their advantage throughout the contest. Along with Russell’s three goals, Cal showed balanced scoring with senior Mason Cox and juniors Hunter Gettelfinger and Giacomo Cupido notching two goals apiece. Cupido also had a team-high four assists, while Gettelfinger had a solid game with three assists, three steals and two ejections earned.
Now the Bears will take on the top-ranked Trojans, winners of four consecutive NCAA titles, for a chance to automatically qualify for the 2012 NCAA championship on Dec. 1-2 at McDonald’s Swim Stadium. Earlier this season Cal was edged by USC 7-6 on Sept. 23 in Los Angeles. The Bears were the last team to defeat the Trojans in the national title match, winning 7-6 in 2006 and 8-6 in 2007. Cal fell to USC 12-10 in overtime in the 2010 NCAA championship match at Spieker Aquatics Complex.