<
>

Reeves Nelson gives Bruins a fighting chance

A season-long barrage of full-court outlet passes made Kevin Love popular among UCLA basketball fans during the 2007-08 season.

During the same year, Russell Westbrook had "The Den" -- UCLA's student section -- throwing up 'W' hand signals because he'd dunk on anyone that got in his way.

There's nothing flashy about true freshman forward Reeves Nelson's game, but he's already the uncontested fan favorite.

Nelson's style of play embodies the infinity symbol that is tattooed on his left bicep. He doesn't stop unless coach Ben Howland sits him for a breather, often panting on his way back to the bench.

Undersized for a center (he's listed at 6 feet 8), Nelson relentlessly crashes the boards and plays with a temper. An example of this came near the end of UCLA's loss at Stanford on Jan. 9. Nelson was whistled for a hard foul on Andrew Zimmermann as both players battled for a rebound, and the officials eventually called him for a contact technical foul -- one whistled when the ball is dead -- and awarded Zimmermann four free throws.

Off the court, it's easy to see why Nelson also had a yin and yang symbol tattooed on his left arm. He's calm and unafraid to laugh, even after defeat.

In a season such as this one, it might be exactly what the Bruins (7-10, 2-3 Pac-10) need.

Minutes after he fouled out of the game at Stanford, Nelson spoke to reporters and was immediately asked about his shove that led to the technical.

“Uh, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said at first.

Then Nelson was asked if he had ever heard of a contact technical.

“Yeah,” he responded, before looking away and cracking a smile.

Nelson clarified that he had never before been called for such a foul and was “just boxing out.” But then he opened up a bit, admitting that he had grown “tired” of the referees’ reluctance to call “cheap shots” by Stanford’s big men throughout the Bruins’ 11-point loss.

“I decided to get a little more physical,” Nelson said.

Nelson has been no stranger to contact this season. He suffered a corneal abrasion to the right eye while playing against Kansas All-American center Cole Aldrich. The injury forced him to wear goggles and "The Den" did its signature "Reeeeeeves!" howl. A few days later, he took an elbow and suffered a cut to the same side of the face. Nelson joked afterward that he was slowly looking more and more like a boxer.

During a rebuilding year, Nelson has at least given UCLA fans a reason to keep their eyes away from the standings.