UCLA’s Reeves Nelson will play in tournament opener

UCLA has lost three of its last four games and six of its last eight, so the Bruins could use any kind of boost heading into their first game of the Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament on Thursday against Arizona.

And on Tuesday they got one.

Freshman forward Reeves Nelson will be back in the lineup.

The 6-foot-8 Nelson has sat out the last four games following two laser surgeries to repair a partially torn retina in his left eye. He was cleared to play last week, but chose not to because of concerns about a family history with retina problems.

His grandmother has two detached retinas.

Nelson spoke with his grandmother and mother Monday and his mother. Sheila, spoke with Dr. Steven Schwartz, who performed the surgeries. Nelson said his mother is now “more at ease” with him playing and “if she’s OK, I’m OK.”

“It was difficult to watch the team lose a few games in row,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t necessarily because I was out, I’m not going to flatter myself that much, but I think with me playing we have better chance to win.”

Nelson, who averages 11 points and 5.5 rebounds, injured the eye against Washington State on Feb. 18. He will wear goggles in practice and possibly in the game.

“Reeves is our best and only consistent low-post scorer,” Coach Ben Howland said.

Nelson’s demolition-derby style has been effective this season, but it has also brought injuries. He was poked in the right eye, suffering a corneal abrasion, against Kansas in early December. He also suffered a concussion butting heads with Markhuri Sanders-Frison, California’s 6-8, 265-pound center.

And in the same Washington State game he sustained the injury to his left eye, Nelson also suffered a gash over his right eye that required 15 stitches.

Howland against expansion

Saying he understands the driving forces behind the push to expand the NCAA tournament to 96 teams, Howland said he was against the idea.

“Adding another weekend to the tournament would be very difficult,” Howland said. “Also, the interest and intrigue, how much excitement goes into every week of the season, and how hard it is to get those at-large bids would be something that would be missed.”

Still, Howland seemed certain that expansion is coming.

“Expansion is about television and about more money,” he said. “That being said, there’s a chance it will happen in the near future.”

Keefe update

Senior forward James Keefe underwent shoulder surgery last Wednesday and will be in a sling for six weeks. He expects to regain full range of motion in approximately four months.

“I still hope to continue playing basketball somewhere,” Keefe said.