Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 | 2:15 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Rob Miech and Ray Brewer dissect the UNLV basketball team's 78-69 victory on Saturday against Southern Illinois. Tre'Von Willis had a career high 25 points and appears to be the Rebels' team leader.
In all three of its basketball games so far this season, UNLV has started as if it’s stuck in quicksand. It falls behind from the tip-off and needs about 10 minutes to get into it.
However, the Rebels are getting better. It only took them eight minutes to begin clicking Saturday night against Southern Illinois.
“We don’t realize it until we look at the scoreboard and we see that we’re down,” said sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield. “We have to start our offense from the jump and attack them before they attack us.”
Derrick Jasper, the fourth-year junior point guard who transferred from Kentucky, believes there is reason to be concerned.
“I’m not really sure what it is,” he said. “It’s kind of confusing. We’re 3-0, but we have to come out with more aggression and enthusiasm right when the tip-off begins.”
It’s as if the Rebels need a rabbit, like runners sometimes require someone to zip out from the field and establish a fast tempo, to have something tangible to aim for. The speedsters then have a gauge.
“That’s not the position we want to be in all year,” said sixth-year UNLV coach Lon Kruger. “We try to play each possession like it’s the last of a ball game. But for different reasons, we get off to slow starts.”
In the opener against Pittsburg State, the Rebels missed six of their first seven shots – then six of their next seven shots – and trailed, 14-10, midway through the first half.
Then they got it together and threatened to hit triple digits in a 91-52 victory over the Division-II Gorillas.
UNLV only hit two of its first 12 shots against UNR last Wednesday night and trailed its Silver State rivals 14-13 midway through the first half.
The Rebels won, 88-75, on a strong second half.
Saturday night, they went 2-for-10 out of the gate and trailed the Salukis, 18-6, after six minutes. UNLV zapped SIU by hitting 77 percent of its second-half attempts to fuel a 78-69 victory.
“That’s something we really need to work on, coming out more ready,” Bellfield said. “Playing against better teams, sometimes we won’t be able to come back from a big deficit. So we have to jump on them first.
“We’ve got to get the big lead so we don’t have to fight back and catch up.”
Junior guard Tre'Von Willis missed a jump shot and a 3-pointer within a 37-second span in the first two minutes of the game against the Salukis.
“We’re not making shots, including me,” he said. “We have to make shots and attack. During the middle of games, we definitely attack and go to the hole with the ball, and make plays for teammates. We’re real aggressive.
“We have to do that at the start of games, drive the ball … drive it, drive it, and kick … we have to take the fight to them. This team has a lot of fight in it. I love this team for that reason.”
Even in UNLV’s exhibition against Division-II Washburn, the Rebels struggled from the start. They almost didn’t awaken from their malaise.
The Ichabods led, 9-7, after eight minutes. UNLV eked out to a lead but never pulled away. When Washburn took the lead early in the second half, it either kept the advantage or the game was tied for more than 11 minutes.
Bellfield tipped in a Justin Hawkins errant jumper with 3:25 left to give the Rebels the lead for good in a meaningless game that didn’t turn out to be so meaningless.
It showed what was coming in their next three games.
Will slow starts continue to plague UNLV against Holy Cross on Wednesday and Louisville on Saturday?
“We play a little bit and find our feel for the game,” Jasper said. “Thankfully, we have a great bench to help us and boost us back up, and give us more energy as the game continues.”
Legacy High’s basketball team watched most of UNLV’s practice Monday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center … the Rebels got 10 points off inbounds plays Saturday night. That success continued Monday at practice when the first teamers (in white) rattled off more than a few baskets in a row, at will, from those plays against the reserves (in black). “Black, you need a timeout! You do!” said assistant coach Steve Henson with a smile … junior shooter Kendall Wallace actually missed a few 3-pointers Monday. Hotter than, well, heck since practice started, he looks mortal lately. Most of his misses have come up short … guard Anthony Marshall, the freshman from Mojave High, drilled a deep 3-pointer from the right corner Monday. Todd Hanni made contact, and Marshall fell back, moving three padded courtside seats. He got back into the huddle as if nothing happened … for the past 10 days or so, since he decided to redshirt this season to bulk up and become familiar with Lon Kruger’s system, rookie center Carlos Lopez has looked confident and strong, swatting much of what comes his way. Darris Santee, Chace Stanback and Tre'Von Willis each had their shots blocked by Lopez on Monday … unless something happens in the 11th hour, Los Angeles Westchester High forward Dwayne Polee is scheduled to visit UNLV this weekend and attend the Louisville game at the Mack on Saturday afternoon.