USC's all-time leading scorer, Kostas Genidounias, found the back of the net with less than five seconds remaining in the third overtime to lift the Trojans past Stanford, 12-11, in the semifinals of the NCAA men's water polo tournament Saturday at Canyonview Pool in La Jolla.
The six-time defending champion Trojans will meet UCLA for the national title Sunday at 3 p.m.
Alex Bowen, who led Stanford (25-4) with four goals, scored with 36 seconds remaining in the second overtime to put Stanford ahead but the Trojans had an answer to send the match into sudden death.
"There are a lot of feelings going on right now," Bowen said. "Probably my lowest point across the board. My childhood dream was crushed, but I did everything I could do."
Bret Bonanni scored three times but he wasn't around at the end after getting called for his third ejection early in the first overtime period. Stanford seemed shaken for a moment as USC took advantage with an early goal.
The Cardinal managed to recover in time as Bowen scored to make sure the game was tied entering the second overtime period.
"We were calm and confident," Bowen said. "We did not see this outcome coming. We thought we would pull it out."
Connor Stapleton gave the Cardinal a 9-8 lead early in the fourth period, and both defenses stepped up to keep the score that way until USC tied it with 14 seconds left in regulation.
Genidounias came off a screen and was open for the shot, beating Cardinal goalie Drew Holland.
"I felt like we didn't do a good enough job of communicating and helping over toward him," Holland said. "He burned us for it, especially at the end of regulation there, when it felt like we had the win in our hands. He got isolated, got the shot off, and scored. The same thing happened again at the end of the over- time. But, I mean, (this is a) devastating loss."
A couple of defensive lapses cost Stanford in the third period as the Trojans opened the second half with three straight scores to take an 8-7 edge. Bonanni scored late in the period to knot things up at 8-8 entering the fourth period.
Bowen opened the scoring with a pair of goals in the first 4 1/2 minutes and Stanford survived a man advantage to take a 3-1 lead after the first period.
Nick Hoversten also scored in the first period, beating a USC defender to a rebound and throwing it into the net.
The Trojans opened the second period on a power play and converted to gain some momentum. USC tied the match before Bonanni's penalty shot put the Cardinal back ahead.
Bonnani, BJ Churnside and Connor Cleary each added goals to allow Stanford to gain a 7-5 halftime lead.
"We wouldn't have been here if it wasn't for Stanford," Genidounias said. "Stanford beat Long Beach (State in the MPSF final) last week. They could have easily let Long Beach win and play an easier semifinal today, but they did what was ethical, what was right. They won that game, and they won the MPSF tournament."