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COLLEGE BASKETBALL

UCLA faces Mississippi State in Wooden Classic

No. 17 Washington meets No. 15 Georgetown in the first game at the Honda Center.

December 12, 2009|By David Wharton
  • UCLA center Reeves Nelson gets tangled with Kansas center Cole Aldrich during a hard-fought loss to the Jayhawks last week.
UCLA center Reeves Nelson gets tangled with Kansas center Cole Aldrich… (Christopher Hanewinckel…)

If nothing else, Reeves Nelson will look a little scarier when he and his UCLA teammates face Mississippi State at the John R. Wooden Classic in Anaheim today.

A pitch-black shiner. The white of his right eye turned blood red.

"It was a little sore the last couple of days," the freshman center said. "Now it feels good."

Nelson, who was poked in the eye against Kansas last weekend, said he had recovered to the point where his vision was clear and doctors said he would not need to wear goggles.

The Bruins got similarly good news regarding freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt, who felt soreness in the same area of his shin that suffered a stress reaction at the season's start.

Honeycutt underwent an MRI exam on Thursday night and it showed no damage to the bone, which means he is likely to play today.

"We got a little scare," Coach Ben Howland said.

He was talking about Honeycutt's shin, not Nelson's eye.

Long and short

Today's marquee game between No. 15 Georgetown and No. 17 Washington features an unlikely matchup.

Look for Washington guard Isaiah Thomas -- all 5 feet 8 of him -- to attack the basket against Georgetown's 6-11 center, Greg Monroe.

"I'm going to be fearless when I go in the lane," Thomas said this week. "I don't think anybody can [intimidate me] unless it's somebody like Shaq."

Washington forward Quincy Pondexter says he isn't worried about Thomas venturing among the big men.

"Man, that kid's been little all his life, so he's had to learn how to do all those trick shots and hang in the air for what seems like 10 seconds and toss up shots," Pondexter said. "That's his game."

For Georgetown, this will be the second consecutive game against a top-25 team.

The Hoyas defeated No. 22 Butler, 72-65, on Tuesday.

Coach John Thompson III hopes a tough early schedule will prepare his team for the upcoming Big East Conference season.

"This week was put together by design, it wasn't by accident," Thompson said. "I want our guys to be used to that emotional ride."

Tough job

The Bruins also face an imposing opponent in the paint.

Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, a 6-9 forward, leads the nation with 5.3 blocks a game.

But Howland said his team will face other problems when it comes to the Bulldogs' defense.

"They are long and athletic," he said. "They can get out and pressure you, get after you. They get after the ball."

Mississippi State has held opponents to 38.7% shooting this season.

The man

John Wooden did not attend the news conference, but officials said they hoped the 99-year-old would be on hand for today's games.

On Friday, coaches talked about what Wooden meant to them.

"The Pyramid of Success is something he has passed down to so many people," Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said. "Most coaches, it's part of their lives."

Said Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar, a former UCLA assistant: "You want wisdom? Forget about buying a book, just sit at John Wooden's feet."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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