A helping hand: Nelson not alone as MC tops Ripon

SALIDA -- If Reeves Nelson expects to close his career with a fourth consecutive trip to the Northern California playoffs, he'll likely require some help.

Such as a guard capable of hitting a distant 3-pointer or feigning a shot and driving hard to the hoop -- someone like senior guard Liautaud Prophete.

Still recovering from last season's devastating knee injury, Prophete showed Tuesday he has the spring back in his step.

"The knee is 70 percent and feeling better every day," said Prophete, who scored 14 points in a 75-58 Trans-Valley League win over rival Ripon.

"Rehab is going real well and they're taking care of the scar tissue, allowing me to move a lot more," Prophete said. "This is the best I've felt all season."

Prophete dislocated his knee cap -- it moved 90 degrees to the right side -- last season while at Golden Valley. He had surgery Feb. 14 and came to MC for his senior year.

"I'm still adjusting, but it's all good with me," said Prophete. "I was the go-to guy at Golden Valley, but on this team it's Reeves who makes it happen."

While Prophete's contribution was crucial to the win, allowing MC to hold the top spot in The Bee's small-school rankings, Nelson was the difference between victory and defeat.

The 6-foot-8-inch forward, off to UCLA in the fall, dominated with 38 points, 27 rebounds, six blocks and four assists. He provided a key block in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, sparking a 14-2 run.

Ripon got within 61-53 when Ryan Baker hit a trey to open the quarter, and was ready to make it a six-point game with Dane Wells heading to the basket for a breakaway layup.

Nelson caught up to Wells and, using his long right arm, swatted the ball off the board before it hit the iron.

"That man is something out there," Prophete said. "He's so big, but he knows how to use his body to make all of the plays."

The No. 4 small-school Indians (11-9, 2-1) trail MC (11-7, 3-0) in the TVL, but they get a second shot when the two play Feb. 13 in Ripon.

"We don't have the answer for Reeves in the middle," said Ripon coach Rod Wright, whose post players lack Nelson's height and girth. "We knew it would take a near-perfect game to win this one.

"We were within a run of getting it done. ... We played well, just couldn't finish."

Ripon felt its array of 3-point shooters would counter MC's superior inside game, but the Indians hit just 7 of 22 treys. Efren Sifuentes (19 points) and Matt Ratto (16 points) combined to go 12 of 37 from the floor, and the duo missed their final 12 shots of the game.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star