Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech dive into the issue of Mike Sanford's firing from UNLV, plus what went down at his Monday press conference. Also, a look at a big week ahead for the Rebels hoops squad, as it hosts UNR and Southern Illinois.
UNLV vs. UNR
UNR Wolf Pack (1-0) at UNLV Rebels (1-0)
Where: Thomas and Mack Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 113-53 in six seasons at UNLV and 431-286 in 24 overall seasons; David Carter is 1-0 in his first season at UNR and overall.
Series: UNLV leads, 51-19
Line: Rebels by 5.5
Last time: The Rebels won, 64-57, in Reno on Dec. 6, 2008
TV/Radio: The Mtn/ESPN Radio 1100-AM
THE WOLF PACK
G Brandon Fields (6-4, 185) 14 ppg
G Armon Johnson (6-3, 195) 16 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg
F Luke Babbitt (6-9, 225) 26 ppg
F Dario Hunt (6-8, 230) 2 ppg, 7 rpg, 5 apg
C Joey Shaw (6-6, 210) 5 ppg, 4 rpg, 4 apg
Bench: G Ray Kraemer (6-4, 200) 10 ppg; Marko Cukic (6-9, 240) 2 ppg
What to watch: Attrition plagued the Pack when Mark Fox departed for Georgia, but the heart and soul of the team remained in the local product Babbitt. Johnson also hails from Reno, and they must be a dynamic duo for UNR to shine. It’s 3-6 in its last nine in Las Vegas.
G Tre’Von Willis (6-4, 195) 17 ppg, 4 apg, 3 rpg
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 180) 1 ppg, 5 apg
G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215) 6 ppg, 4 rpg
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210) 6 ppg, 9 rpg
C Brice Massamba (6-10, 240) 9 ppg
Bench: G Kendall Wallace (6-4, 190) 16 ppg; F Darris Santee (6-8, 225) 9 ppg, 6 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190) 11 ppg; G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200) 6 ppg, 3 apg; F Matt Shaw (6-8, 240) 2 ppg, 4 rpg; G Steve Jones (6-1, 220) 8 ppg, 3 rpg
What to watch: UNLV’s depth figures to give UNR some major problems this evening. Various players will get called on to defend Babbitt, but plenty of others will chip in to try to frustrate the star forward. If the Massamba-Santee connection produces another 18, the Rebels should win handily.
Oscar Bellfield saw the sliver of an opening on the right side and his eyes widened. Like he did with that game-winning shot at Louisville on New Year’s Eve, he kicked into a high gear.
Even teammates widened their eyes when they saw Bellfield take off for a dunk.
“I have no idea,” a bashful Bellfield said Tuesday afternoon after practice. “I’m surprised it came out. I thought it was in there. Things happen. You bounce back from it.”
Junior guard Tre'Von Willis was on the court when Bellfield tried his high-wire act.
“The thing that got us was how fast he did it,” Willis said. “The lane opened up and he kind of exploded through it. He got up there. I think he surprised himself, that’s why he missed it.”
Misses have been common for a while with the Rebels.
They shot 41.4 percent against the Gorillas, continuing a sour string through last season. Including the Washburn exhibition, the Rebels had made less than 40 percent of their attempts in their previous six games.
“Really, we’re getting good looks,” Bellfield said. “It’s all about knocking them down and having confidence, not thinking about the miss and letting it go.”
UNLV (1-0) can’t afford to miss any dunks tonight, or against most D-I opponents, when its real season begins against UNR (1-0) at the Mack.
In the opener against Division-II Pitt State, the Rebels could afford such a miscue. The visitors hung tough for 10 minutes, when they held a 14-10 advantage.
However, the D-I dam broke against Pitt State when Bellfield tried dunking the ball with eight minutes left until halftime.
The Gorillas led, 19-17. Fortunately for Bellfield, Steve “Chopper” Jones grabbed the ball after it caromed off the rim, and Darris Santee hit a jumper to tie it.
“We weren’t too harsh on him,” Willis said of Bellfield. “Maybe if we didn’t get the rebound back, we’d have gotten on him. But we got a second chance. We weren’t too tough on him.”
When Rebels junior guard Kendall Wallace sank a 3-pointer with 6:39 left in the game, it capped a nearly 24-minute stretch in which UNLV outscored its foes 63-20 for an 80-39 advantage.
“They didn’t think I’d do that,” Bellfield said of his teammates’ reaction to his highlight attempt. “They thought I’d lay it up. But the whole momentum changed after that. It’s cool.”
D-I teams don’t figure to break down like that, especially one with Luke Babbitt. The super 6-foot-9 sophomore and Reno native means everything to the Wolf Pack.
He scored 26 points in UNR’s opener, and last season he was named to the Western Athletic Conference’s first team and earned the league’s freshman-of-the-year honors.
“He looks real good on tape,” Bellfield said. “He’s hitting his shots, being aggressive. He’s a great player. We have to be prepared and contain him. Of course, he did real well last year.”
In Reno on Dec. 6, 2008, Babbitt had 15 points on 5-for-14 shooting in UNR’s 64-57 defeat to UNLV. Fellow Reno native Armon Johnson tallied 21 points, and nine of those came at the free-throw line.
“Babbitt and Johnson are two terrific players,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger. “They have several good players around them, so you can’t cheat so much on Babbitt and Johnson. Other guys can step up and kill you, too.”
The chief complement is Brandon Fields, a senior guard from Texas who went for 14 points, hitting half of his 12 attempts from the field, in UNR’s 14-point victory over Montana State in its opener.
UNLV sophomore Chace Stanback might start out on Babbitt, but look for other Rebels to chip in to hound Babbitt.
Even Derrick Jasper, the Kentucky transfer who stood to the side of most of Tuesday’s practice, will try to challenge Babbitt.
Right after practice, Jasper left to get treatment on his surgically repaired left knee. Kruger said Jasper has some soreness, but it’s nothing they didn’t expect and Jasper, who said he feels fine, will start tonight.
As for finishing, Bellfield might take a cue from Willis. Anthony Marshall denied a pass and Willis picked it up at halfcourt, then he zipped in for a breakaway jam against Pitt for a 67-34 edge.
“We keep defending like we did against Pitt State, we can get easy buckets,” Willis said. “It’ll get the building energized and get the team going. It makes the game easier for us … gets us in a groove.”
Since practice started, Bellfield has been wowed by the athleticism on his squad.
“People can do a lot more things,” he said. “I think that’ll show, in steals and dunks.”
And about him converting his next electric sky-high drive to the rim?
“Yeah, of course,” Bellfield said. “And if I don’t, I’ll do it again … and keep doing it.”