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Feeling the excitement before the USA’s first international match of the year, Arizona fought off UCLA, 33-10, at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. on Saturday. The Wildcat defense was impressive holding back the Bruin offense for most of the contest. In addition to Saturday’s victory, Arizona’s second side beat USC, 66-14, on Friday to bring its PAC Conference record to 2-0. Lastly, Cal bested San Diego State, 85-10, in a non-conference clash.
Playing at 3 pm prior the USA versus Argentina game, Arizona ran out to a 16-3 lead at halftime and ultimately beat UCLA, 33-10. Matt Rogers (2), Zach Biggs, and Dante Weeks found the endzone for the Wildcats and flyhalf Anton Grigoriou had 12 points off two penalties and three conversions. Scrumhalf Yoh Nakayama kicked UCLA’s penalty in the first half and outside center Conner Bercik scored the Bruins’ lone try late in the game.
Arizona head coach Sean Duffy indicated that the defense paved the way for victory on Saturday. “Pat Coco handles our defense and does a great job, adding in some things this past week that we thought would be important and they were. It's 33-3 until the closing minutes and as I said, our attack was OK. Our defense really bailed us out and it is a good sign for us that when our attack just isn't firing we can still run with a good team like UCLA and control the gainline enough to put ourselves in a good spot.”
Duffy still believes there are many things to work before Arizona’s next match. “The first XV was good but greedy. We left a lot of points on the board, put up 30+ points and I didn't feel our attack was all that great. Forcing things at times, what was interesting is how much rhythm the Second XV had and they looked more in sync, having played a match Jan 20. The first XV is still feeling their way of how to play off each other but that's what I expected.”
Speaking of the Wildcats’ second team, the squad racked up ten tries against the University of Southern California to win 66-14 on Friday. Garrett Walker (2), Tyler Hansen, Luke Bartzis, Jack San Pietro, Ben Scoular, Riley Kerr, Kyle Fulton, George Niethammer, and Bobby Butchofsky dotted down tries for Arizona and Robert Figley was nearly perfect with his boot connecting on eight conversions.
“The second XV played really well,” Duffy said. “They did a tremendous job implementing the things we've worked on the past two weeks in our attack patterns. Some mental lapses defensively but a great win. The game was a full conference match, we put trust in them to bring home our first official conference win, and they delivered.”
Speaking on playing on the big stage before the USA match, Duffy said, “I think the big takeaway is how far D1A has come, that it's great for our conference and our competition to be in a great showcase like this. I know people may have been upset that the Super Rugby sides couldn't make it, but we hope we gave them something to enjoy in the leadup to what was a great USA win. It's a great step for our league and we're thankful to Dan Lyle and Donal Walsh among the many others who helped organize it.”
Next on the schedule for Arizona is Utah at home on Saturday. “Utah is the next step in our growth overall, “ Duffy concluded. “Utah is physical and strong with skilled players. It'll be nice to have our first home match for the first side of the 2018 season and that will give us some good energy. The university is buzzing right now with our wins, the new Nike kit, and the Fiji news so we hope to carry that momentum forward.”
As for Cal, the Bears were challenged initially but met little resistance in the second half for an 85-10 victory against SDSU. In San Diego, the game was close in the first half as the Aztecs’ Nicolas Lilian scored the game’s first points and only trailed by nine points at the break. It all changed in the second half when Cal exploded for ten tries and 66 points to close out the match.
Cal head coach Jack Clark pointed the the high work rate and production from his backrow as one of the keys to the win. “We were solid in most facets of the game. At halftime, we adjusted our attack to be more direct.”
Fullback Marcus Shankland notched a hat trick for the Bears and Christian Dyer and Jack Iscaro each scored a pair in the win. Thomas Spradling, Damon Wiley, Elliot Webb, Thomas Robles, Zachary Tavenner, and Kevin Saunders also crossed the whitewash. Jamie Howells and Webb combined for ten conversions in the win.
Cal is on the road this Wednesday with a mainly freshman-sophomore side venturing to Stanford for a mid-week romp before returning to Berkeley for a double-header on Saturday. Games versus Cal-Maritime and Utah Valley will highlight Parents Weekend for the Bears and will test their depth. “We want the team to have playing opportunities," Clark added. "It’s the time of the season to be competition busy.”