Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 | 3:39 p.m.
- Rebels climb two spots to No. 12 in AP rankings, No. 15 in coaches’ poll
- Anthony Marshall’s stellar performances rewarded with league Player of the Week award
- Carlos Lopez asserts himself as a force in Rebels stomping of New Mexico
- UNLV’s blowout victory against New Mexico caps great day of hoops
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
Smith brings breakneck speed to the guard rotation, which occasionally results in reckless turnovers. His shot (46 percent from the floor, 56 percent behind the 3-point line) is vastly improved. And as a man at the bottom of the rotation, he understands that his time on the court will vary game to game.
“I think we’re not worried about the minutes; we’re more concerned about the ‘W,’ ” Smith said.
No. 12 UNLV (18-3, 2-1) will be chasing another one of those at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Boise State (10-8, 0-3). The game is televised on The Mtn.
Smith’s first game was at home against Louisiana-Monroe, just more than five weeks ago. He’s averaging 4.1 points in 7.4 minutes per game. His best performance was 13 points and five assists in a 124-75 victory against Central Arkansas.
With just about six weeks left in the regular season, coach Dave Rice said he may continue to alter and add to Smith’s role. But with starters Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall, as well as Justin Hawkins, who almost plays starters’ minutes, entrenched at the top, there’s a limit to how much Smith can be expected to contribute.
“We still feel like he will play a big part in our team this year from a playing-time standpoint,” Rice said. “But, certainly, the experience he will gain playing this year is going to enhance his opportunities to hit the ground running next year.”
Considering the hype around his transfer to the Rebels, one could expect Smith to be disappointed by his role so far. But the start to this season — UNLV was 11-2 by the time Smith was eligible — tempered his expectations.
“Coming into a team that’s rolling, everything’s going well for them, what can you expect?” Smith said.
Instead, he has settled into the back of Rice’s 10-man rotation as a change of pace off the bench. The last three guys in that rotation — Smith, Quintrell Thomas and Kendall Wallace — have to be ready at a moment’s notice. Of course, depending on the match-up, they may not see the court at all.
It’s a difficult position to be in. For example, in UNLV’s 80-63 victory against New Mexico, Wallace came in to take two free throws for the injured Brice Massamba, then returned to the bench without any time ticking off the clock.
That’s not how Wallace imagined his final season playing out. But like Smith and the rest of the Rebels, he’s more focused on the outcome of the game than how much time he had on the court.
It may seem like a low-pressure gig, but Smith recently confirmed that’s not the case. In the first half of last week’s 101-78 victory against TCU, Smith committed a turnover and was pulled from the game, complete with a vicious tongue-lashing from Rice.
“I think we were up more than 10 points, but he expects so much out of me,” Smith said. “Next year, I’m going to be the point guard, so (I need) the mentality and the mind-set that every possession is valuable.”
Learning that, and displaying it on the court, is the most important thing that Smith can take from this season. Whatever he can add in production for the rest of this year is a bonus.
“As long as we’re winning, I’m fine,” Smith said. “I know my time will come, and when it does, I’ll be ready.”