STOCKTON — University of the Pacific’s men’s water polo team didn’t play well during most of the first half, and it showed on the scoreboard.

The Tigers needed something, anything to give them a spark and get them back in the game. And an improbable goal a second before halftime did the job.

After his team fell behind by five goals, Luke Pavillard made a shot from the middle of the pool and the No. 5 Tigers went on a furious charge in the second half before falling to No. 3 Cal 11-8 on Saturday at Pacific’s Chris Kjeldsen Pool. It was the first loss of the season for the Tigers (4-1), and the Golden Bears improved to 6-0.

Pacific head coach James Graham said his team learned a lesson instead of experiencing a victory, but had no complaints about the effort, especially in the final two periods. The Tigers came all the way back to tie it up at in the fourth period on a goal by Andrea De Nardi.

“The best things I saw from tonight is that we didn’t roll over, that we had the mentality to be down 5-0 and tie it up,” Graham said. “That’s a mentally tough thing to do.”

The stands at the Pacific Aquatic Center were packed for the matchup between two of the top five teams in the nation, and there was a tailgate party in the parking lot before the game with a live band and a very busy taco truck.

The atmosphere was festive, but the Golden Bears took the crowd out of it early with three goals in a span of 1:18.

“Our guys were able to come out calm and get some good offensive in the first part of the first quarter,” Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. “And a team of their caliber and talent level, in this kind of environment, they weren’t going away.”

Trailing 5-0, Pavillard unloaded his long shot which skipped off the water once and found the back of the Cal net with one second remaining in the first half. Pacific was on the scoreboard, and it was about to be a much different game.

“It was good to put a goal on the board. I think we were all disheartened that our shots weren’t going in,” Pavillard said. “It was nice to get a lucky shot to boost our morale.”

The Tigers worked their way back into the game, and Pavillard had three goals before he drew his third exclusion and was ejected with Pacific trailing 8-6 in the fourth period. But that didn’t slow down his teammates, and De Nardi tied it up with 4:21 remaining.

The Golden Bears regained the lead on a goal by Safek Simsek, and added two insurance scores.

The Tigers also gained a boost from goalkeeper Alen Osmanovic, who replaced John Hedges after Cal’s first three goals. Osmanovic had 14 saves.

“John went in, and just right away I didn’t think he was on the ball,” Graham said. “We were already preparing for Alen to go in after the first quarter, we were going to switch each quarter, unless someone got hot. Alen went in and played really well, and we stuck with him.”

Contact reporter Scott Linesburgh at (209) 546-8282 or slinesburgh@recordnet.com. Follow him on Twitter@ScottLinesburgh.