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UCLA BASKETBALL

UCLA gets the final tip to beat California, 86-84

Reeves Nelson puts back missed jumper by Tyler Honeycutt with two second left, after Bruins squander big leads with many missed chances. Center Joshua Smith goes out after hitting head on floor.

January 20, 2011|By Ben Bolch

Their best defender had fouled out. Their star big man had long since departed with a mild concussion. Their ability to make free throws or get the ball cleanly past midcourt had largely failed them.

Somehow, with everything deteriorating around them, the UCLA Bruins managed to pull out an uglier-by-the-second 86-84 victory over California on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion after Reeves Nelson tipped in a missed shot with two seconds left.

Nelson returned to the scoring column in a big way after his zero-point, five-foul effort against Oregon, scoring a career-high 24 points and the winning basket when he sprinted into the lane and used his right hand to put back a missed turnaround jumper by Tyler Honeycutt.

The play earned Nelson bear hugs from several teammates after Cal's desperation heave from beyond halfcourt fell short at the buzzer to give the Bruins their third consecutive victory.

"I didn't really look at it as an opportunity for redemption," said Nelson, who made 10 of 14 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds to notch a double-double. "I'm not perfect and everybody has an off game, so I was going to come out and do what I normally do, and it worked out for me."

UCLA (12-6 overall, 4-2 Pacific 10 Conference) had squandered leads of 15 points midway through the second half and eight with less than a minute remaining.

Cal freshman guard Allen Crabbe scored 13 of his 17 points after Bruins defensive stopper Malcolm Lee fouled out with 3:20 remaining, including a three-pointer that knotted the score at 84-84 with 10 seconds to go.

"They just scored on us too easy," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "It was like we weren't even on defense."

Forward Harper Kamp scored most of his 21 points on layups for the Golden Bears (9-9, 2-4), who shot 72% in the second half.

But UCLA guard Lazeric Jones made seven of eight free throws in the final 1:11 and finished with 24 points. He converted 10 of 12 free throws overall.

In an implausible first-half instant, California's big problem became UCLA's sizeable void when Joshua Smith collapsed in a heap after trying to draw a charge and instead hitting his head on the floor.

There was immediately concern on the Bruins bench when the freshman center — officially listed at 6 feet 10 and 305 pounds but described this week by Cal Coach Mike Montgomery as "300-and-who-knows-what big" — remained on the floor for a few moments before gingerly walking toward the bench.

Smith briefly returned after his injury before sitting out the final 28:57 with neck soreness and stiffness. He will be reevaluated Friday and Howland said his status for UCLA's game against Stanford on Saturday morning would probably be a game-time decision.

With Smith sidelined, UCLA turned to Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane, with mixed results. Lane had seven points and three rebounds in 14 minutes, but Stover had four rebounds, three fouls and two turnovers in 15 minutes. Both players were liabilities at times on the defensive end.

"You could tell being down a man, not having Big Bear [Smith] in there, hurt us inside with our defense," Howland said.

Howland used a small lineup again for stretches, at one point going with guards Jones, Jerime Anderson and Tyler Lamb in addition to Honeycutt and Smith to combat Cal's zone. Point guards Anderson and Jones were on the floor together when the Bruins took a 36-25 lead, their largest advantage of the first half.

Honeycutt, wearing a protective blue sleeve over his sore right elbow, scored 15 points on five-for-nine shooting, making four of six three-point shots.

Howland said he was pleased that Nelson made the winning play, one that probably eased the frustration he experienced last week against Oregon.

"For him to get that tip," Howland said, "to not give up and not quit, to run the floor and get that last play, that was exciting."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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