UCLA’s big lead melts away
There are losses, and even bigger losses. UCLA experienced both Thursday night.
Before the Bruins took the court they learned that forward Reeves Nelson, who had laser surgery to repair a torn retina more than a week ago, had decided not to play the two games on the road trip because of a family medical history. He had been medically cleared to play.
UCLA then added insult to that injury, blowing a 17-point second-half lead in a 78-73 loss to Arizona at the McKale Center.
Nikola Dragovic’s intentional foul with UCLA trailing, 72-70, completed the collapse with 14 seconds left. Derrick Williams made the two free throws. Nic Wise made four more in the last 12 seconds, and Bruins hopes ended when Michael Roll’s three-pointer bounced harmlessly off the rim.
“The guys worked hard, and obviously their effort was outstanding considering we’re playing guys 38, 39 minutes,” Coach Ben Howland said.
The Bruins already knew they were without reserve center J’mison Morgan, who was serving a one-game suspension for missing a meeting with the training staff.
Nelson, though, had been expected to play. But growing concerns about a family history with retina problems led him to confer with Howland, then decide not to play by “mutual agreement.”
Nelson who was injured in a fall during a game against Washington State, became concerned with the torn retina was discovered last week.
“Even though I was medically cleared, my granny, who I grew up with and helped raise me, has two detached retinas,” Nelson said. “There was a hereditary concern. The doctor said that if you have a family history there is more of a chance of getting injured.”
Nelson said he talked with both his mother and grandmother before making the decision.
“I also have some anxiety about not being able to play 100% and help the team,” Nelson said. “I don’t want to short-change the guys.”
The guys handled the short-changing themselves.
There was a time when UCLA playing Arizona was on the national radar. Now, it barely rates a regional hiccup.
All this did was put Arizona (15-14 overall, 9-8 in Pacific 10 Conference play) in sole possession of fourth place in the conference standings. UCLA (13-16, 8-9), meanwhile, is assured of a losing record for the regular season.
The Wildcats, who trailed, 50-33, with 15 minutes 50 seconds left, finished with a flurry. Kyle Fogg left the Bruins in a daze, scoring 19 of his game-high 26 points. He made three three-pointers during a 25-8 run that got Arizona even, 58-58.
Fogg also made the two free throws that gave the Wildcats a 65-64 lead. He made eight of 12 shots for the game.
“We did a poor job of locating him in the zone in the second half and not figuring out that when the guy is hot that you have to get to him,.” Howland said.
The Bruins shot 60% in taking a 39-29 halftime lead. They shot 33% in the second half. Fatigue played a part, as Dragovic played 39 minutes, while Roll and Tyler Honeycutt played 38. Malcolm Lee played 32 minutes, but missed more than five minutes in the second half with cramps.