UCLA men’s basketball steps up to face the Pac-10 Tournament

Freshman forward Reeves Nelson will play in today's matchup against fourth-seeded Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament. Nelson missed the last four games after laser retinopexy on his left eye.

Freshman forward Reeves Nelson will play in today's matchup against fourth-seeded Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament. Nelson missed the last four games after laser retinopexy on his left eye. Michael Chen

The UCLA men’s basketball team enters the Pacific Life Pac-10 Tournament today with the knowledge that only a run to the tournament title will result in the program’s sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Such a feat would require the Bruins to win three games in three days, a tall order to ask of a team that has lost six of their last eight.

Therefore, UCLA (13-17, 8-10 Pac-10) coach Ben Howland’s focus on Tuesday was not on making a run to the tournament title, rather solely on today’s game against Arizona (16-14, 10-8) at noon at the Staples Center.

“Our whole goal right now is to try to win (today),” Howland said. “That’s as far as we’re looking. I think with an 8-10 record in conference I think it’s very important we just focus on the one game, and if we’re fortunate enough to win that game, then we’ll worry about what’s next.”

The Bruins enter the tournament as the No. 5 seed, a far cry from a few years ago when they were the top team, or even last season when they were the No. 2 seed. When past UCLA teams entered the conference tournament, the only question was how high a seed they would get.

This season, the Pac-10 Tournament will prove to be either UCLA’s ticket to the Big Dance, or the final game(s) the Bruins will play before they enjoy a spring break for the first time in six years.

“It’s not just a difficult time right now ““ it’s been a difficult time for most of the season,” Howland said. “We’ve been close to trying to get over the top side and get a winning season, and right when we get there, we seem to slip through our grasp on a couple of different occasions.”

The Bruins’ opponent is an Arizona team that UCLA has lost to twice this season, the latest coming last Thursday on the road. After leading by as many as 14 points, the Bruins faltered down the stretch and lost 78-73.

“We played well enough to win over there,” Howland said.

In that game, Arizona’s Kyle Fogg, a Los Angeles native, scored a career-high 26 points, buoyed by a stellar 7-of-10 shooting display from 3-point territory. It was the second time Fogg had posted a career-high in points against UCLA.

Therefore, the Bruins’ defensive strategy is simple.

“Obviously, we’re going to try to stop Kyle Fogg from having another career game,” senior guard Michael Roll said.

Today’s game could potentially be the final game of Roll’s five-year career at UCLA.

A veteran of three Final Four runs and an appearance in the national championship game in 2006, Roll said that the thought that this could be the end of his time at UCLA is one that he isn’t dwelling on.

“I’m just looking at it as a fun game to play in at Staples on Thursday,” said Roll, who was named to the First-Team All Pac-10 Team.

One player who said that he was going to dedicate today’s game to Roll was freshman forward Reeves Nelson. After missing the Bruins’ last four games following laser retinopexy on his left eye, Nelson said that he will play today and, should the Bruins win, in future games this season.

Last weekend in Arizona, Nelson was medically cleared to play yet sat out both of the Bruins’ games because of feelings of apprehension. Nelson’s grandmother has two detached retinas. After speaking with his mother and grandmother, Nelson said he felt comfortable playing again.

Nelson added that it was difficult to sit out while the Bruins dropped three of the four games he missed.

“It was difficult to watch the team lose a few games in a row, and it wasn’t necessarily because I wasn’t playing,” Nelson said. “I’m not going to flatter myself that much. But I think with me playing, we have a better chance to win. I want to play for my teammates, namely Mike Roll.”

The return of Nelson and his averages of 11 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, as well as his relentless attitude on the court, will be greatly welcomed by a UCLA team on the verge of elimination.

“It’s basically win or go home,” sophomore guard Malcolm Lee said. “The pressure is going to be there. It’s going to be an intense game. I think everybody’s going to play like it’s their last because it definitely can be.”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.