TUCSON, Ariz. “”mdash; While the UCLA men’s basketball team was locked in a 40-minute battle with Arizona Thursday night in the raucous McKale Center, the Bruins’ most notable warrior sat idly on the bench in sweats and sneakers.

Though he had been cleared to play by UCLA medical staff, freshman standout Reeves Nelson made a pre-game decision to sit out both of the Bruins’ contests during the weekend road trip. Nelson has not played in the last three games since undergoing laser surgery last Monday in order to repair a retinal tear in his left eye.

Nelson and coach Ben Howland made the joint decision partly based on Nelson’s concerns that his family history of eye problems would make a repeat eye injury permanently dangerous.

“Once they said something was wrong with my retina, my granny immediately came to mind,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s grandma, who he said helped to raise him, has two detached retinas and is considered legally blind.

“Just in talking with him today, I could tell there was a lot of apprehension, a lot of anxiety, which is very understandable,” Howland said.

Nelson averages 11 points per game as the starting center and is second on the team with 5.5 rebounds per game. Without senior forward James Keefe, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury and sophomore center J’Mison Morgan, who was suspended from this game for being late to a team meeting this week, UCLA was short on big men.

“Obviously we’re shorthanded,” Howland said. “We were hurting tonight for backups and manpower.”

Just in his first season, Nelson has had multiple injuries to his eye region. On Feb. 18, in a game against Washington State, Nelson’s face slammed to the ground as he came down awkwardly from a dunk. The collision led to 15 stitches above his right eye. In early December, a finger to the eye from a Kansas opponent resulted in a corneal abrasion.

Nelson said his status for next weekend’s Pac-10 tournament, possibly the Bruins’ last games of the season, is still up in the air.

“I’m just going to have to think about it, pray about it and work it out in my own head I guess,” Nelson said.

If the season ended today, the Bruins would play the Wildcats in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, which starts Thursday at Staples Center.