Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009 | 2:23 a.m.
Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Ray Brewer discuss a busy day in UNLV athletics, including the hoops squad's resounding 76-71 victory over No. 16 Louisville at the Mack and the football team's sendoff to coach Mike Sanford and its 16 seniors coming in the form of a 28-24 come-from-behind victory at home over San Diego State.
Before a national cable television audience and a rabid Thomas & Mack Center crowd, the Rebels had frittered away all of a 19-point lead when Bellfield came to their rescue and steered UNLV to a 76-71 victory.
With less than four minutes remaining, he produced a runner in traffic in the lane and a pair of free throws, and then he nearly duplicated his game-winning feat on New Year’s Eve.
In that one, the 6-foot-2 Bellfield executed a power drive to the right and sank a banker over 6-9 Samardo Samuels in the game’s final seconds.
Saturday, with the shot clock dwindling down from five seconds, to four, to three, Bellfield again drove right on Samuels and converted a high archer over the Jamaican’s long arms with 2 minutes, 25 seconds left.
It gave UNLV a 70-66 lead and invaluable breathing room.
“Just a little bit,” Bellfield said when asked if he flashed back to the final night of 2008. “It’s not quite how I planned it, but it worked out well. It was awkward, with the shot clock running down. I had to get it off and, I mean, he was kinda close to blocking it.
“But I got it off.”
Did Bellfield, who had a team-best 17 points, think Samuels has seen enough of him?
“No, I’m sure he’ll brush it off,” Bellfield said, “and be ready for their next opponent.”
Louisville senior Edgar Sosa, a 6-2 guard from New York who led everyone with 18 points, said Bellfield is a good player and he had a good game.
“I think the game wasn’t decided because of that,” Sosa said. “He did hit a big shot, but we had a chance to play well ourselves and win the ball game with the decisions we made. We just made bad decisions at the end.”
The 16th-ranked Cardinals lost for the first time in five games, while UNLV (5-0) stayed perfect before its Wednesday night matchup against Arizona (3-2) in Tucson.
“That was a good win,” said UNLV junior guard Tre'Von Willis. “Louisville is a tough team. It showed character on our part when they tied it late and we widened the margin back out and kind of cruised from there.
“It definitely showed how much guts that locker room has on our side.”
For 26 minutes, the Rebels were playing precision Lon Kruger basketball.
They were winning the battle on the boards. They were making more than half of their shots, and the Cardinals were hitting less than 40 percent, and UNLV was sharing the ball to Kruger’s delight.
To that point, UNLV had 18 assists. Louisville had five. The Rebels led, 53-34, when Willis converted a three-point play with 14:05 left.
“It wasn’t a shock,” Willis said. “We know what we’re capable of. Even though we were up 19, we wanted to widen the margin. We were telling each other to play like it’s zero-zero. Give them credit. They came back. They fought.
“Luckily, we hung in there.”
UNLV reserve center Darris Santee was dunking and scoring inside and hitting soft jumpers, and starting point guard Derrick Jasper had a couple of powerful alley-oop dunks.
“I just knew we had to finish the game strong,” said Santee, who had 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting. “We worked too hard to lose the game. This is the guy I need to be, this is the guy I know I can be. I have to do this every game.”
Except for beyond the 3-point arc, Willis had a strong game with 16 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and a steal in 32 minutes.
He shot 4-for-6 inside the 3-point line. Outside it, he was 1-for-7. His teammates followed suit by missing 11 of their 15 long-range attempts.
Ahead by 19, the Rebels left the door open for the Cardinals when they started missing those bombs. Walk-on senior guard Steve “Chop” Jones missed one, then junior guard Kendall Wallace, then reserve center Matt Shaw.
Then Shaw missed a layup; Wallace missed another from long distance. Bellfield missed a 3-pointer. Chop missed another. The Rebels seemed intent on settling for bad shots.
Louisville crept all the way back, for a 62-62 tie, when Sosa drilled a 3-pointer with 5:29 left.
“We just played harder defense,” Sosa said. “We showed our will on the defensive end. We pressured them into making mistakes like they did to us to get out to that big lead. We just didn’t have enough in the tank.
“We didn’t run out of fuel … I think we’re one of the best-conditioned teams in America. When you battle from such a deficit … we just didn’t communicate on the offensive end to bring us up a notch. It’s a learning experience and a long season.”
After Bellfield made two free throws, Rakeem Buckles, a freshman forward from Miami, sailed in for a layup to again tie it, at 64-64, for Louisville.
But Bellfield kicked his game up a notch during a rough stretch in which UNLV had tallied only three field goals in nearly 10 minutes.
The crowd of 14,390 responded, like it did all game long when the Rebels were either pouring it on the Cardinals or trying to hang on, like it was a rock concert.
Bellfield took a feed from Jasper and beat the shot clock with his 12-footer in the lane with 3:48 left.
Jerry Smith missed a 3-point shot, against Bellfield, and Jasper grabbed the rebound.
Bellfield, who had missed two free throws with about 5 minutes left after nearly getting decapitated by Cards freshman Peyton Siva on a strong drive, sank both freebies for a 68-64 lead.
Then Bellfield again took it to Samuels with the shot clock evaporating. Bellfield’s eight points in three minutes rejuvenated the Rebels.
“That’s what we need out of Oscar,” Willis said. “He made some crucial plays. He stepped up and hit some free throws. He was just big for us all night. It’s definitely tough to guard me, Oscar and Derrick on the perimeter.”
Toss in rookies Marshall and Justin Hawkins, and Wallace, and, according to Willis, UNLV has a difficult group of guards to, well, guard.
“Our guards are very tough,” Willis said. “We just try to make plays for each other and try to be aggressive, and try to get results.”
For a second consecutive season, that’s just what Oscar Bellfield did Saturday afternoon against Louisville.