Reeves Nelson continues to prove that he’s more than capable of replacing the departed Drew Gordon in UCLA’s front court.

The true freshman forward made a strong case Sunday afternoon in the Bruins’ final tune-up before Thursday’s Pac-10 opener, scoring a career-high 21 points to lead UCLA to a 66-49 victory over Delaware State at Pauley Pavilion.

With Gordon still searching for another program to transfer to and senior forward James Keefe still sitting with an injured shoulder, Nelson shot an efficient 7-of-8 against the Hornets and grabbed just three rebounds ““ a number that surprised coach Ben Howland when he saw the postgame stat sheet.

“The stats are incorrect,” Howland said. “Reeves Nelson had more than three rebounds, for sure.”

Nelson didn’t necessarily question the official scorer after the game.

“I didn’t rebound as well as I would like, but we got the win and that’s all that matters,” he said.

Despite the uncharacteristically low rebound numbers, the 6-foot, 8-inch Nelson had his way inside with Delaware State’s post players. He attacked the basket, drew fouls and made seven of his 10 free-throw attempts.

“They were small in stature,” Nelson said.

Fellow freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt followed Nelson’s lead, scoring 11 points and grabbing four boards in 27 minutes off the bench.

“When you consider that he missed the whole summer and also three weeks of official practice to be where he is right now is really impressive,” Howland said. “He looks really comfortable out there.”

With the clock winding down in the first half, Honeycutt displayed his new-found comfort, sinking his first 3-pointer of the season and handing UCLA (5-7) a relaxing 19-point lead.

“I had a lot of time out there,” Honeycutt said. “I had like five seconds to myself but it went down for me.”

UCLA will need big contributions from both Nelson and Honeycutt ““ the two freshmen that have earned the most playing time so far this season.

“They’re still going to make freshman mistakes, but they’re both going to get a lot of experience,” Howland said. “Hopefully today gives them some confidence.”

The Bruins built a large advantage following a strong defensive stretch. After UCLA assumed a 12-10 lead midway through the first half, the Hornets missed seven shots and committed two turnovers in a span of seven minutes to go scoreless.

“We started off well, but when we went to the bench, we weren’t able to keep it going,” Delaware State coach Greg Jackson said. “When our starters checked back in, we got out of rhythm.”

The Bruins pulled away with a 14-0 run. UCLA’s defense, meanwhile, held Delaware State (4-6) to just 30.4 percent shooting in the first half and forced six turnovers.

The Hornets held a 30-28 scoring edge in the second half but it didn’t matter. UCLA never trailed and gained the lead following sophomore guard Malcolm Lee’s 3-pointer to open the game.

Sophomore starting point guard Jerime Anderson looked crisp in the first half, but committed six turnovers in a rather regrettable and careless second half. He finished with four points, six assists and six steals.

“He may become a little complacent when we get a 20-point lead,” Howland said. “He’s got to keep his focus up.”

Anderson was not the only one who seemed content with a big lead. UCLA lost its collective focus late in the second half and allowed Delaware State to pull within 14 with more than four minutes left on the clock. But a pair of Nelson buckets quickly stretched the Bruin lead back to 18 before Howland emptied his bench and the 7,244 in attendance began to head for the exits.

“Our players did a good job recognizing that (Nelson) was in there,” Howland said. “He did a good job aggressively attacking the basket.”

Yet, in order for Nelson to become a consistent inside force, Howland noted that Nelson must improve on defending the post. Opponents are sure to get bigger for the Bruins, who head into conference play having won three of their last four games. On Thursday, UCLA hosts an Arizona State team that beat Delaware State 76-34 on Dec. 12.

“It’s a new season now,” senior guard Michael Roll said. “We’re basically looking at it like we’re 0-0.”

DRIBBLERS: Freshman guard Mike Moser left the game in the second half after banging his head on the floor. Howland said he did not play Moser for the rest of the game due to cautionary reasons”¦ Roll said he was at full strength Sunday after battling the flu last week. “A lot of it was about eating and getting my weight back up,” he added.