Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 | 2:30 a.m.
UNLV vs. Utah
UNLV Rebels (14-3, 2-1) vs Utah Utes (8-8, 1-1)
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 126-56 in his six seasons at UNLV and 444-289 in 24 overall seasons; Jim Boylen is 50-33 in his three seasons at Utah, which is his first head coaching job.
Series: UNLV leads 21-20
Last time: Utah won, 70-60, in Salt Lake City on Feb. 25, 2009.
Line: UNLV by 11.5
TV/Radio: CBS-C/ESPN Radio 1100-AM
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 180) 10.4 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.8 rpg
G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215) 7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.0 apg
G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195) 16.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.1 apg
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210) 9.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg
F Matt Shaw (6-8, 240) 7.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Bench: G Kendall Wallace (6-4, 190) 7.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg; F Darris Santee (6-8, 225) 5.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190) 3.6 ppg; F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240) 4.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg; G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200) 4.9 ppg; G Steve Jones (6-1, 220) 2.1 ppg.
What to watch: The biggest bugaboo for UNLV is keeping opponents off of the offensive glass. Even with Kim Tillie out, Utah has two formidable 7-footers inside. Can the Rebels lower the average of 15.3 offensive boards they're allowing so far in league play?
G Carlon Brown (6-5, 205) 12.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.2 apg
G Luka Drca (6-5, 205) 10.9 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.5 rpg
G Marshall Henderson (6-2, 175) 10.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg
F Shawn Glover (6-6, 190) 3.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg
C David Foster (7-3, 255) 5.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Bench: F Jay Watkins (6-7, 210) 9.8 ppg, 4.6 ppg; C Jason Washburn (7-0, 220) 6.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg; G Jordan Cyphers (6-4, 190) 3.1 ppg.
What to watch: Utah is not only short-handed coming to town thanks to the injury bug, but still is struggling to find consistency at the point guard position. The Utes' key to success will be Drca and Brown not getting flustered against the Rebels' pressure defense in the backcourt.
As a freshman, Oscar Bellfield was known best for a late-game drive against bulky Louisville forward Samardo Samuels, hitting a leaner off the glass which secured a 56-55 upset win on the road for UNLV over the nationally ranked Cardinals.
As a sophomore, in a return trip to Las Vegas, the Cardinals tried their hardest to break Bellfield mentally with heavy, unrelenting backcourt pressure.
He didn't fall apart, scoring 17 points and dishing out four assists in a 76-71 victory Nov. 28 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
From that day forward, UNLV coach Lon Kruger said he'd seen significant growth from the player wearing No. 0 for the Rebels (14-3 overall, 2-1 MWC), who host Utah (8-8, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
"He probably went up a notch with the Louisville game, handling their pressure for 40 minutes, doing a good job of taking care of the ball and getting us into the offense," Kruger said. "That was probably the moment where he took the biggest step."
Coming into this season, there were several possible point guards for Kruger. Outside of Bellfield, Kentucky transfer Derrick Jasper, junior Tre'Von Willis and even freshman Anthony Marshall all were more than capable of filling the spot.
But with his consistent play and exceptional balance between getting his own offense and efficiently creating it for others, Bellfield seemingly has taken the job by force.
"I feel good. I feel comfortable with it, and I'm enjoying it," the Los Angeles native said. "The ball's in my hands the majority of the time, so that's cool. Who wouldn't like that?
"I feel like I've grown a lot. I'm distributing the ball real well and limiting my turnovers and also scoring every now and then. I'm still getting the hang of it, and there's a lot of improvement I can still make."
Playing in big-time atmospheres such as that home game in late November against Louisville helped prepare Bellfield for the remarkable stretch he's in the midst of right now.
In those three games, Bellfield has totaled 22 assists — including a career-high nine Jan. 6 at BYU — and limited himself to only five turnovers. His turnover-to-assist ratio of 4.4-to-1 is the best in conference play.
On the season, he has 76 assists to 33 turnovers.
Bellfield maintains that he still has room to grow, but in reality, he already has come quite a long way.
The point guard for almost any basketball team needs to be the most instinctual player on the court. For those who execute those duties best, setting up others for offensive success comes as second nature.
It's now been roughly three years since Bellfield switched from his natural shooting guard position to the point as a junior at Westchester High. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, the move offered him the best opportunity for success at the next level, and his success so far at UNLV is proof of that.
Still averaging 10.4 points per game this season, he's finding just as much joy in getting others involved in the offense as padding his own scoring average.
Perhaps his finest stretch in helping others all season came at the start of the second half in Wednesday's 76-66 home victory over SDSU.
After UNLV struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the first half and trailed at the break, 39-33, Bellfield led the charge right out of the locker room, assisting the Rebels' first four second half field goals. The last one — a feed inside for a Brice Massamba layup — helped tie the game at 43-43 and was a jumping-off point for UNLV to run away with a double-digit win.
Two other baskets in that quick spurt were scored by Chace Stanback, who poured in 18 points and displayed an incredible amount of confidence.
Stanback and Willis combined for 41 points Wednesday. Between that and the 34 they scored together at New Mexico last weekend, they have the making of one of the league's most dangerous one-two scoring punches.
Bellfield has been huge in lighting that recent fire.
"When a guy wants to get other guys shots, that can only be great," Willis said. "Oscar's come into his own. He looks like he's very comfortable out there. We really wanted him to take charge, and so far he's stepped up to that challenge, getting us to the place we need to be and dishing the ball well."
Plus, unselfishness makes all of this work, too, as Bellfield has a keen focus on the bigger picture.
"I want to get them going, and then other opportunities will come for me to get easy baskets," Bellfield said. "I noticed that other players are having confidence in themselves. So it helps everybody."
Utah notes ...
• The Utes will be without leading scorer Tillie for the third consecutive game Saturday. The 6-foot-11 senior, averaging 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, is out for roughly two more weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
• Utah's veteran guard duo of Carlon Brown and Luka Drca is looking to bounce back from a collectively rough effort in Wednesday's 74-57 loss at New Mexico. Brown, Utah's leading scorer, suffered his worst offensive performance of the season, scoring four points on 1-of-4 shooting in 24 minutes played. As for Drca, he scored just seven points and committed six turnovers.