The last time they met, UCLA and Oregon each played a man short.
The Ducks were missing Joevan Catron, sidelined by a calf injury.
The Bruins were missing Reeves Nelson, rendered pointless by E.J. Singler.
UCLA’s heavily tattooed forward let his Oregon counterpart get under his skin with a physical style of play that resulted in Nelson’s being called for retaliatory fouls. Nelson went scoreless and fouled out in only 15 minutes during UCLA’s 67-59 victory, the first time he could recall not scoring at any level of basketball.
His calf having healed, Catron will play in the rematch Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion. His psyche now intact, Nelson will give it a shot too.
“I’m not going to try and bad-mouth the kid because I know he plays hard,” Nelson said of Singler, “but I’m just going to try and not let his cheap shots get in my head this game because I wasn’t used to that ever. That’s the first time in the Pac-10 that I’ve ever really experienced something like that with a player.
“I’ve talked to other people I know in the league about it, and he is just really a scrappy player and sometimes he does things that a lot of people aren’t used to. That’s just how he plays the game.”
Oregon Coach Dana Altman said he reviewed the game tape and didn’t see any dirty play.
“UCLA’s the only one that feels any of our guys did anything,” Altman said.
Asked whether he was concerned things might get out of hand in the rematch, Altman said, “They don’t have to be worried about anything on our end, that’s for sure.”
The return of Catron, a 6-foot-6 forward averaging a team-leading 16 points per game, may result in a reprieve of sorts for Nelson. UCLA Coach Ben Howland said Nelson would guard Catron instead of Singler whenever Bruins center Joshua Smith is not in the game.
Of course, that’s not an easy assignment either. Oregon (12-11 overall, 5-6 in Pacific 10 Conference play) has won four of five games since Catron’s return, defeating Washington State by 26 points and beating Stanford at Maples Pavilion for the first time in 25 years.
“Everybody has geared their defenses to slow him down,” Altman said of Catron, “and he still has been able to put up pretty good numbers.”
Howland called Catron “a matchup nightmare because he’s 6-5½ with a 7-foot wingspan and 240 [pounds] and has all sorts of game around the basket, up-and-under moves. And he’s shooting it well facing up.”
The Bruins (16-7, 7-3) will have one fewer post player than usual to confront Catron. Reserve forward Brendan Lane flew to Boston on Wednesday to attend his grandmother’s funeral and is not expected to return until Friday.