Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
Louisville's Freedom Hall has all the makings of a road atmosphere which could rattle the cage of any incoming opponent not knowing what to expect. Especially a freshman.
The fans, the noise, all of the typical trimmings. Oh yeah, plus a long, athletic, experienced home team which boasts a well-deserved national ranking.
And of all the freshmen to set foot into the Cardinals' home ball yard this season, Oscar Bellfield may be the least likely to tremble.
The UNLV freshman will be up against it on Wednesday evening, when the Rebels take their 11-2 record to the Bluegrass State. UNLV will more than likely be without its leading scorer in senior guard Wink Adams.
It's nothing new for Bellfield, though, who's proven to be more than ready for everything his inaugural season at UNLV has thrown at him. Much of that comes from playing his final two seasons at Westchester High in Los Angeles -- a traditional SoCal hoops powerhouse.
"There, there's big expectations, so you have to live up to it," Bellfield said. "You have to know that they're a winning school, you've got to keep that going. Basically, the veterans really get on you about that."
Bellfield's two-year run at the point for Westchester came following a transfer from Woodland Hills Taft High. He came into the program not long after current budding NBA regulars Amir Johnson and Trevor Ariza had departed.
One thing was instilled in him right from go at Westchester under coach Ed Azzam -- confidence.
Or at least the ability to put it on display the way it needed to be.
He'd seen the way Westchester players carried themselves watching the Comets play rival Fairfax several times before entering high school. Then, playing on the summer AAU circuit against some of the nation's top talent -- guys like Jrue Holliday, Tyreke Evans and Larry Drew -- he saw the type of attitude that accompanied success at a level where everyone's trying to prove themselves.
"The best players have that attitude," he said. "I don't know what attitude it is -- maybe a killer instinct. You just come out hard, go at your opponent."
It's not that he wasn't always a confident kid, but if Bellfield wanted to survive on the court for the Comets, he'd have to be confident in everything he did.
"We play against some of the best competition in the country, so if you're not a confident person, you're not going to have a lot of success," Azzam said. "He's a great talent, has all the athletic ability. Very polite kid. Instinctively, he knew how to play the game. Becoming confident and playing with that confidence, he had to learn to assert himself, know he's one of the best players on the court and say 'I'm gonna play like it now.'"
It was almost exactly a year ago when it all came together in a big way for Bellfield. That's when Westchester was in Hawaii, matched up in a holiday tournament against Montrose Christian, a power of a private school from Rockville, Md.
The numbers couldn't be verified, but Bellfield scored in the 20s and had a slew of assists and rebounds to his credit as the Comets upset their nationally-ranked foe.
"He was a dominant plyaer, even though they had some dominant players and athletes," Azzam recalled. "He kind of took off from there. It gave him some confidence.
"That was one of the things that concerned me when he went to college."
But so far, the complaints have been few and far between for Lon Kruger and his staff, as Bellfield's had no problem both playing with confidence and playing consistently because of it while starting eight of the Rebels' 13 games.
He's averaging 7.2 points per game, ranks second on the team with 14 steals and is carrying a healthy 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. That includes 15 assists to just two turnovers in the Rebels' last two games. Bellfield's also the team's most accurate 3-point marksman, converting on 45.9 percent of his attempts so far (17-of-37).
Again, not only running the show at a powerful high school program, but also winning games there has plenty to do with it.
With Bellfield at the point, the Comets went 29-5 and advanced to the state quarterfinals last year.
"We've recruited some guys out of there, Oscar's the first one we've gotten," Kruger said. "Anytime you can recruit a player from a winning tradition, that's great. They know how to win, they expect to win, they've played against very good competition, so I think anytime you can do that, you prefer it."
Because of that pedigree, Bellfield's had no hesitation to show his personality off through his play this season.
It started early, by throwing home an emphatic, one-handed slam off a screen against San Diego in his first official collegiate game. That second half highlight propelled UNLV to the 65-60 victory.
Then there was the second half of a 64-57 win at UNR on Dec. 6, where he scored 14 of his 17 points in a convincing second half performance. After hitting a couple of 3-pointers, he'd flash three digits in the air with his hands accompanied by a slight sneer on his face.
"I kept it inside, but now I'm opening it up," Bellfield said. "You see Wink doing it, and it looks great. That atttitude, that's what everybody needs and that's what gets you going."
Now, the Rebels need that 'show no fear' freshman to show up yet again following the brief holiday break, with Adams slowly working his way back from a lower abdominal strain suffered last Tuesday against Southern Utah.
WIth the Mountain West schedule set to begin on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center against New Mexico, Adams probably won't go on Wednesday unless it's absolutely necessary in UNLV's marquee non-conference game. Bellfield, along with sophomores Tre'Von Willis and Kendall Wallace, will each need to pick up portions of the slack.
Bellfield's ready. He's confident of that.
"I've got to play a lot harder," he said. "Conditioning-wise, got to be ready to play a lot of minutes and be aggressive on both ends of the court -- Step up and be a leader.
"This is a great opportunity. It's wide open, it's there."