So UCLA stayed alive Thursday afternoon, beating Arizona 75-69 in the quarterfinals of the Pacific 10 Conference tournament at Staples Center.
The Bruins had lost to the Wildcats twice this season, the latest coming just a week ago in Tucson. But the third matchup turned out to be the charm.
Speaking of charms, freshman Reeves Nelson was clearly UCLA's lucky piece. He scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his return from a two-week absence as he recovered (both physically and mentally) from laser surgery to repair a partially torn retina in his left eye.
Really, all Nelson could complain about was a pair of goggle malfunctions -- they fogged up and even broke at one point during the game.
"It's hard because they fog up and the nose piece falls out," Nelson said. "Other than that, when you're in the game you're not really thinking about the goggles on your face, you're thinking about the job you have to do."
The job was providing a spark. And after not having him for the last four games, UCLA went to Nelson early and often.
"He's basically automatic inside," guard Malcolm Lee said. "When you throw it in, you can count on getting a bucket."
Nelson's effect was clear and evident by his eight makes in nine tries. Without him, the Bruins seem one-dimensional, mostly relying on the perimeter shooting of Michael Roll and Nikola Dragovic. With him, there's a post presence other teams must respect.
"He makes a difference," Dragovic said. "We try to use him as much as we can."
Said Lee: "He was telling me the risks [of returning] and I was thinking that maybe he should stay out. He made the decision to come on the court and that just shows how much heart he has. He's all about this team."