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UCLA basketball: Bruins could be without Reeves Nelson, Joshua Smith against Arizona

January 25, 2011 |  7:28 pm

UCLA could be forced to take on the most dynamic big man in the Pacific 10 Conference without its top two frontcourt players.

Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson and freshman center Joshua Smith returned to practice on a limited basis Tuesday, but their availability for the Bruins' game against Arizona on Thursday in Tucson will be a game-time decision.

Smith has been sidelined because of a head injury since early in UCLA's victory over California last Thursday, and Nelson sprained his left ankle with 7 minutes 47 seconds left in a triumph over Stanford two days later. Smith participated in some contact drills during practice Tuesday but Nelson, who has been wearing a walking boot, did not.

Both players sat out practice Monday, though Coach Ben Howland said Tuesday that Smith had passed every medical test given to him.

The absence of either player would be an especially big blow considering the Bruins will face Arizona forward Derrick Williams, who is averaging 19.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Nelson is UCLA's leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 13.9 points and 8.0 rebounds, and Smith averages 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.

If Nelson or Smith is unavailable, UCLA will turn to freshman center Anthony Stover and sophomore forward Brendan Lane. Howland said Stover would defend Williams to start the game regardless of whether Smith plays in an effort to help keep Smith out of foul trouble, but the coach expected every available big man to guard Williams at some point.

"It's going to be multiple guys," Howland said.

--Ben Bolch