Play It Forward: Dec. 3-9

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

BOXING: Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez IV; Saturday, 6 p.m.; MGM Grand, Las Vegas; HBO Pay Per View, $59.95 (or $69.95 HD):

Thirty six rounds between these two going back to 2004 apparently isn’t enough. Here’s a mini-series that has reach a cliff-hanger, provided we make a clean break here, OK? Let’s bank on 12 more rounds, one more controversial decision, and we’ll put it all on a DVD for posterity’s sake. Just know going in that Pacquiao has claim to winning the two fights – the last, not so decisive — after their first bout ended in a draw. “So the question for this fourth fight is, ‘Do I need to knockout Pacquiao to get the win?’”  Marquez asked last week. “Well, I will certainly try. I also know that while knocking out a fighter like Pacquiao won’t  be easy, it’s not impossible either . … I just want the judges to score the fight in the ring and not what they think is happening. I don’t care about the three previous fights and how they were scored anymore. All I ask is for a fair judgment, and if I lose, I lose. But if I win, I want my hand raised that night in the ring.” That may be asking for too much. Pacquiao knows that feeling, after it seems he won his fight against Timothy Bradley last June only to have the judges not give it to him. Based on Pacquiao’s last two performances, against Bradley and Marquez, maybe he’s lost his invincibility. He’ll turn 34 soon. Has time finally caught up with him? If Pacquiao ever needed a decisive victory, this would be it. Because Floyd Mayweather isn’t coming around any time soon.

THE BEST OF THE REST …

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NCAA men’s water polo final: USC 11, UCLA 10

USC’s Kostas Geniounias (5), right, celebrates with teammate Jeremy Davie (2) after what turned out to be his game-winning goal in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NCAA water polo championship victory over UCLA. Below is UCLA defender Chris Wendt (22). (Dan Avila/USC Sports Information)

In the process of tracking down its unprecedented fifth straight NCAA men’s water polo championship, USC didn’t leave much to spare on the scoreboard, the clock, or by the light of day.

A bruising 11-10 victory late Sunday afternoon for the top-ranked and No. 1 seed Trojans before a raucous home McDonald’s Swim Stadium, coming again at the expense of rival UCLA, ranked and seeded second, wasn’t nearly secure when Kostas Genidounias’ goal with 40 seconds to play provided what would be the final margin.

Only after USC’s Mace Rapsey intercepted a pass in UCLA’s zone with less than 10 seconds to play could the Trojans bench players, coaches and even fans dare take a leap into the pool as the darkness started to set in with the persistent rain clouds hovering.

It was the third time this year the Trojans (29-0) outlasted the Bruins (28-5), each time by one goal.

“It was just one of those spectacular games,” said USC coach Jovan Vavic, accepting his 11th NCAA water polo title, eight of them with the men’s program. “(UCLA) executed well, but our guys have been there before, they know how to win, they have great heart and they know we’ll get the job done. It was a complete team effort.”

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A USC team that’s held the No. 1 spot since preseason polls … and Vavic keeps them above water

USC coach Jovan Vavic instructs his team during Saturday’s NCAA water polo semifinal victory over Air Force. (Dan Avila/USC Sports Information)

So what if it’s not a fair comparison. We’ll make it anyway.

Just watch how Jovan Vavic, in the dark sunglasses and white shirt,
methodically works his side of the pool at USC’s McDonald’s Swim
Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

“Spread out, spread out,” he instructs his team, even as they’re up
by 10 goals in the closing minutes. He calls a time out as the other
team scores a couple of late goals, needing to regroup.

Composed, calculating and consumed with the moment, he’s coaxing as much as he can out of his already dominant Trojans water polo squad that, in a couple hours time, earned its way back into the NCAA championship for the eighth season in a row.

The opportunity is sitting there to capture an unprecedented fifth
consecutive title, the capper to another undefeated season.

It makes you wonder how this 50-year-old native of Yugoslavia would
look on the sidelines at the Coliseum on any other fall Saturday
afternoon, directing the Trojans’ football program.

“If he knew Xs and Os of football like he does with water polo, no
doubt he could coach it — or any other sport,” USC senior captain
Matt Burton said after the Trojans came back from a somewhat slow
start but got refocused into rattling off their 28th win in a row
Saturday, 18-7, over Air Force.

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