Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008 | 2:15 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's ugly-but-successful afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center, as the Rebels opened the 2008-09 regular season with a 65-60 victory over a short-handed San Diego squad. Plus, postgame sound from Lon Kruger, Wink Adams, René Rougeau and Tre' Von Willis.
- Opponent: Texas-Pan American
- Where: Thomas & Mack Center
- When: Tuesday, Nov. 18, 7:00 p.m.
- TV: None
- Radio: 1100 AM ESPN Radio
When it mattered Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t a matter of UNLV being led by either freshman Oscar Bellfield or third-year sophomore Tre’Von Willis at the point.
Both were on the Thomas & Mack Center court at the end, helping to secure a 65-60 victory over a depleted San Diego squad in both teams’ season opener.
The Rebels weren’t as composed as fifth-year coach Lon Kruger would have liked, but five games over an 11-day stretch – which started Saturday – should benefit team chemistry.
At least UNLV didn’t stub its toes like fellow Mountain West Conference member Utah, which lost at home to Division-II Soutwest Baptist, did Saturday.
After a lackluster performance Tuesday against D-II Washburn, Bellfield rebounded with a strong game against the Toreros and an exclamation point.
He scored 13 points, gave out six assists and stole the ball three times, committing only two turnovers in 27 minutes.
“You hear people say this or say that,” said UNLV assistant coach Lew Hill. “He’s a freshman. Some days he’ll look better than others. He’ll keep getting better and better and better. He’ll get more comfortable.
“He’ll do his thing.”
Bellfield’s coast-to-coast dunk with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining gave UNLV a 55-49 lead and ignited a crowd of 13,436.
“He got up on it,” said San Diego senior guard Brandon Johnson, who had 14 points and played all 40 minutes.
“I didn’t think he could jump that high, but that was intense. It was building. That’s what you look for. That’s a good recruit for them.”
Bellfield smiled, his braces flashing from a few television camera lights, when asked if his power play might have surprised some people.
“I think I did,” he said. “I’m sure I did.”
While that was the play of the game, it sealed nothing.
Shooting cold from the opening tip, just like Tuesday, the Rebels finished off the Toreros by sinking 10 free throws the rest of the way and playing stingy defense.
Bellfield figured in another pivotal play when he tossed up an air ball from beyond the 3-point arc with 2:21 left.
But it floated into the hands of UNLV senior forward Joe Darger, who got fouled by San Diego forward Rob Jones on a follow-up attempt.
Darger’s two free throws gave UNLV the lead for good, at 59-58.
“They were more focused on the ball than boxing out,” he said of his big rebound. “They were more worried about the ball. We competed our butts off and got stops when we needed to.”
San Diego played without suspended starters Gyno Pomare and Trumaine Johnson, injured starter De’Jon Jackson and suspended reserve Clinton Houston, a defensive stopper.
“Coach (Bill Grier) was on us all week, telling us to compete regardless of the circumstances,” said senior guard Danny Brown. “We were a few guys short, but there are no excuses. Still have. to line up five guys.”
The Toreros hounded the Rebels all day with their 2-3 zone defense. Or was that a 3-2 matchup zone with collapsing principles? Or a good old-fashioned “amoeba,” in honor of the house that Jerry Tarkanian built?
Heck, let them describe what had UNLV players standing around frequently on the perimeter.
What’s it called?
“Get the guy,” Brown said. “We were just trying to guard their 3-point shooters, to get out on everything. It’s our 2-3 zone, with man-to-man … we just try to mix it up out of the huddle.
“It’s something like that, mixed up.”
It started messing with the Rebels when they were ahead, 12-2. Brown pumped up the Toreros with back-to-back 3-pointers, and sophomore center Nathan Lozeau’s close shot tied it, 19-19.
UNLV tried pulling away, leading by eight. But San Diego battled back and led, 43-42, on Brazilian center Robert Mafra’s easy transition basket with 12 minutes left.
Again, the Rebels slowly tried to distance themselves from the Toreros, and Bellfield’s stunning dunk gave UNLV that six-point cushion and a big boost by the crowd.
The Rebels got careless, but they pressed the Toreros non-stop and wore down the short-handed visitors.
Rougeau’s pair of free throws gave UNLV a 61-58 lead with 54 seconds left, and Bellfield emerged with another big play.
Rougeau and Wink Adams, who led the Rebels with 19 points, hounded Devin Ginty, who had caught the ensuing inbounds pass. Ginty turned it over, Bellfield grabbed it and fed Adams down low.
Ginty fouled Adams, who made one of two free throws.
Willis forced another turnover that Adams converted into another free throw.
Kruger said San Diego will be much better in two or three weeks, in January and in March.
“I think coach Grier will have an outstanding year,” he said.
The same could be said of Bellfield.
“We don’t have the easiest system to learn,” Hill said. “As a freshman, he’s right on pace. He’ll learn. He’s a student of the game. He works hard and he’ll keep gettin’ better.
“He got more stuff he ain’t showed you yet.”