As UCLA prepares to play Oregon on Thursday night, one Bruins player certain to be frothing at the mouth is Reeves Nelson, who will be looking for redemption for his poor performance when UCLA played at Oregon Jan. 15.
UCLA won that game, 67-59, but Nelson fouled out without scoring -- the first scoreless game of his UCLA career.
"As long as we get the win, I don’t really care what I do personally," Nelson said. "But I know I’m a big part of this team so I’m just going to try to do whatever I can to help my team win."
In that game, Nelson acknowledged that he lost his composure because of Ducks' forward E.J. Singler's physical style and accused Singler of cheap shots and dirty play. This time, he said, he hopes to contain his emotions.
"That was the first time in the Pac-10 that I ever experienced something like that with a player," Nelson said. "I’ve talked to other people that I know in the league about it and he’s just a really scrappy player and sometimes he does things that a lot of people aren’t used to. That’s just how he plays the game."
UCLA center Joshua Smith, who also complained about Singler after the game, said having a game of experience against him under his belt should help the Bruins better prepare to face him.
"I was really upset with his physical play," Smith said. "He was doing some stuff that wasn’t needed. We’re not trying to call him out or anything, but guys on our team realize there was some extra stuff and this week we’re going to be physical with them. We play them at home so we’re going to be ready to play."
After UCLA defeated St. John's, 66-59, Saturday, one of the biggest points of contention for Red Storm fans was the discrepancy in fouls called in the game.
St. John's was called for 23 fouls and UCLA was whistled 15 times, which really isn't that big of a difference. But the big discrepancy was in the number of free-throw attempts: UCLA had a 41-7 advantage in attempts. Add in the fact that it was a Pac-10 officiating crew and it produced steam in the ears of New Yorkers.
UCLA coach Ben Howland, of course, disagreed with the notion that the Bruins got any kind of home court officiating edge.
"I didn’t feel that was fair," said Howland, who happened upon a copy of the New York Post at a Pizza restaurant Sunday afternoon. "If you go back and watch the game, which I did Sunday night, it was very aggressive and they fouled. They were fouls. It was not any kind of homer situation."
Howland said his experience with Pac-10 officials is that they tend to lean toward the opponent in inter-conference games to avoid the notion of favoritism.
"I think our officials, honestly, err on the side the other way historically," Howland said. "That’s not why we won or lost the game. They were fouling. You go back and watch the tape and study each of the calls and look at it, it’s pretty clear."
Rank and file
UCLA received nine points in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll this week, the first time the Bruins have received points this season, and they inched closer to the cusp of a top-25 national ranking for the first time since the end of the 2008-09 season.
If not for losses to Virginia Commonwealth and Montana earlier this season, it's likely the Bruins (16-7) would be in the top 25 right now. Their other losses are to No. 2 Kansas, No. 10 Villanova, No. 16 Arizona, Washington, which was ranked No. 19 last week, and USC.
UCLA has won 13 of its last 16 games and seven of its last eight, with a victory over No. 8 Brigham Young and a one-point road loss to No. 2 Kansas on their resume.
"We started off the season unranked and then we kind of lost those two games [against Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth] in New York that kind of could have put us on the map," Nelson said. "But I think now we’re just, we don’t really care what anybody thinks with the polls or anything. We’re just going to try to keep winning games and then people will start to notice us when they have to."
Howland said the rankings would take care of themselves if the Bruins keep winning.
"I just know that if we take care of what we need to do, it’ll fall into line," he said. "That’s why this game is so important on Thursday. We’ve always been in control of it, we always are. That’s why I know we’ve got eight games left in the regular season and we’ve really got to continue to improve and do well."
Jones wrapped up
Point guard Lazeric Jones will be wearing a cast-like wrap on his left wrist after an MRI exam Monday revealed a severe sprain.
Jones injured the wrist in a fall last Wednesday against USC. He played through it against St. John's, but acknowledged feeling pain as he went 0-for-6 from the field and did not score.
"It did [bother me more than I thought it would], but I don’t want to make any excuses about it," Jones said. "I just have to be more mentally tough about it and fight through."
Jones, who shoots with his right hand, says it bothers him most when he is driving into the paint because he tends to draw a lot of contact in there, but said it's not bad enough to keep him sidelined and hoped that the new tape job will help.
"My teammates need me out there and if they do I’m going to fight through and I’m going to play regardless so whatever happens, happens," he said.
Jones has been dealing with a damaged tendon in his right middle finger since Dec. 31. He had a poor game against USC after that injury but has averaged 11.6 points since. Howland said it sometimes takes a game or two to figure out how to play through an injury.
"It’s going to take some time to be able to get comfortable with this," Howland said. "To be able to play with it not have it be something that he’s going to think about too much."
Lane to miss game
Reserve forward Brendan Lane will miss Thursday's game against Oregon so he can attend a funeral for his grandmother, who died Saturday.
Lane, averaging 3.2 points and 3.5 rebounds, will fly to the Boston area and return late Friday night. Howland says he hopes he will be able to play Saturday's 1 p.m. game against Oregon State.