UCLA beats California 86-84 on Nelson’s tip
LOS ANGELES – Reeves Nelson has always shown a nose for the ball, and his instincts paid off at the buzzer.
Nelson scored a career-high 24 points, tipping in the winning basket, and UCLA beat California 86-84 Thursday night for its third straight win.
“He is really physical,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “He’s like a bull in a china shop.”
Lazeric Jones added a career-high 24 points, making seven of eight free throws in the final 1:11, and Tyler Honeycutt had 15 for the Bruins (12-6, 4-2 Pac-10), who hit a season-high tying 10 3-pointers – four by Honeycutt.
Cal’s Allen Crabbe hit a 3-pointer that tied the game at 84 with 10 seconds to go. Honeycutt dribbled up the court and was swarmed by defenders, so he scrambled to the right side of the free-throw line and put up a fallaway jumper that missed.
Nelson made a beeline for the offensive rebound and slapped his right hand at the ball for the winning basket after the Bruins blew a 14-point lead over the final 4:07. Nelson had 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season.
“I saw Honeycutt dribbling and I knew he was probably going to take the shot,” Nelson said. “It just popped into my head to run into the offensive glass in case he missed it and he did.”
Nelson came up big playing in front of his visiting parents and brother, a UCLA football recruit, two games after going scoreless for the first time in his career last Saturday at Oregon. He didn’t attempt a shot in that game for the second time in his career.
“I didn’t look at it as an opportunity for redemption,” he said. “I’m not perfect. My teammates were supportive and believed in me and that’s why I love them.”
Harper Kamp scored 21 points for the Golden Bears (9-9, 2-4). Crabbe added 17 points – 12 of them after UCLA’s Malcolm Lee, who guarded him, fouled out with 3:20 to play – and Jorge Gutierrez had 15 points. Cal only led once, when it made the game’s first basket.
“They did a great job of playing us on the outside,” Kamp said. “They shot the ball really well. I thought we did a decent job except on ball screens.”
UCLA starting center Joshua Smith left the game after hitting his head on the floor while taking a charge with 14:21 left in the first half. He remained out as a precaution after complaining of a stiff and sore neck. He will be re-evaluated on Friday, although coach Ben Howland said Smith has a mild concussion.
“Not having Josh there hurt us inside with our defense,” Howland said.
Honeycutt hit UCLA’s 10th 3-pointer – double the Bruins’ average – to make it 73-59.
“They were more physical than us. They just handled us with their big lineup,” Montgomery said. “I’m glad that we battled. I thought if we’re going to be aggressive, we would have to match their physicality. We made one (3-pointer) and they made 10. That’s hard to overcome.”
As in the first half, the Bruins allowed a double-digit lead to evaporate in the final minutes. The Bears used a 10-3 run to close within 76-69, with Crabbe scoring four straight and Kamp making four consecutive free throws.
“They had some calls go their way,” Nelson said. “You got to give them credit for not giving up.”
Jones turned the ball over and Gutierrez scored on a fastbreak layup to leave Cal trailing 76-71 with 1:16 left. Jones was fouled and made both free throws before Gutierrez missed a 3-pointer.
Honeycutt made the first of two free throws for a 79-71 UCLA lead. But Richard Solomon dunked, Crabbe scored and Solomon dunked again after stealing the ball from Honeycutt to cut the Bears’ deficit to 79-77 with 41 seconds left.
Jones and Crabbe combined to score the next 12 points for their teams, with Crabbe’s 3-pointer tying the game before the Bruins narrowly avoided overtime.
“They just scored on us too easy,” Howland said. “It was like we weren’t even on defense. You still got to get stops.”
Both teams struggled at the start, with each missing four of their first six shots and combining for five turnovers in the opening five minutes.
The Bruins built a 36-25 lead with four minutes to play in the half, only to let the Bears get back into the game with a 9-0 run. Lee hit a 3-pointer – UCLA’s sixth of the half – and Nelson stole the ball and dunked to keep the Bruins ahead 41-35 at the break.
Howland improved to 16-6 against Cal, giving him more wins against the Bears than any other team in his 17-year career.