REBELS BASKETBALL:

Short-handed Toreros give Rebels a battle

UNLV escapes sloppy opener with 65-60 victory

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Sam Morris

UNLV guard Oscar Bellfield, right, and forward Darris Santee fight San Diego guards Brandon Johnson, left, and Matt Dorr for a loose ball during the second half Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 65-60.

Learning While Winning

It may not have been perfect, but the Rebels were able to eek out a 65-60 win over San Diego in their home opener on Saturday.

UNLV gets by San Diego

UNLV forward Darris Santee and San Diego forward Rob Jones fight for a loose ball during the first half of their game Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008. Launch slideshow »

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The Rebel Room

An ugly win, but a win nonetheless

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's ugly-but-successful afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center, as the Rebels opened the 2008-09 regular season with a 65-60 victory over a short-handed San Diego squad. Plus, postgame sound from Lon Kruger, Wink Adams, René Rougeau and Tre' Von Willis.

Box score

Next game

  • Opponent: Texas-Pan American
  • Where: Thomas & Mack Center
  • When: Tuesday, Nov. 18, 7:00 p.m.
  • TV: None
  • Radio: 1100 AM ESPN Radio

When it mattered Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t a matter of UNLV being led by either freshman Oscar Bellfield or third-year sophomore Tre’Von Willis at the point.

Both were on the Thomas & Mack Center court at the end, helping to secure a 65-60 victory over a depleted San Diego squad in both teams’ season opener.

The Rebels weren’t as composed as fifth-year coach Lon Kruger would have liked, but five games over an 11-day stretch – which started Saturday – should benefit team chemistry.

At least UNLV didn’t stub its toes like fellow Mountain West Conference member Utah, which lost at home to Division-II Soutwest Baptist, did Saturday.

After a lackluster performance Tuesday against D-II Washburn, Bellfield rebounded with a strong game against the Toreros and an exclamation point.

He scored 13 points, gave out six assists and stole the ball three times, committing only two turnovers in 27 minutes.

“You hear people say this or say that,” said UNLV assistant coach Lew Hill. “He’s a freshman. Some days he’ll look better than others. He’ll keep getting better and better and better. He’ll get more comfortable.

“He’ll do his thing.”

Bellfield’s coast-to-coast dunk with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining gave UNLV a 55-49 lead and ignited a crowd of 13,436.

“He got up on it,” said San Diego senior guard Brandon Johnson, who had 14 points and played all 40 minutes.

“I didn’t think he could jump that high, but that was intense. It was building. That’s what you look for. That’s a good recruit for them.”

Bellfield smiled, his braces flashing from a few television camera lights, when asked if his power play might have surprised some people.

“I think I did,” he said. “I’m sure I did.”

While that was the play of the game, it sealed nothing.

Shooting cold from the opening tip, just like Tuesday, the Rebels finished off the Toreros by sinking 10 free throws the rest of the way and playing stingy defense.

Bellfield figured in another pivotal play when he tossed up an air ball from beyond the 3-point arc with 2:21 left.

But it floated into the hands of UNLV senior forward Joe Darger, who got fouled by San Diego forward Rob Jones on a follow-up attempt.

Darger’s two free throws gave UNLV the lead for good, at 59-58.

“They were more focused on the ball than boxing out,” he said of his big rebound. “They were more worried about the ball. We competed our butts off and got stops when we needed to.”

San Diego played without suspended starters Gyno Pomare and Trumaine Johnson, injured starter De’Jon Jackson and suspended reserve Clinton Houston, a defensive stopper.

“Coach (Bill Grier) was on us all week, telling us to compete regardless of the circumstances,” said senior guard Danny Brown. “We were a few guys short, but there are no excuses. Still have. to line up five guys.”

The Toreros hounded the Rebels all day with their 2-3 zone defense. Or was that a 3-2 matchup zone with collapsing principles? Or a good old-fashioned “amoeba,” in honor of the house that Jerry Tarkanian built?

Heck, let them describe what had UNLV players standing around frequently on the perimeter.

What’s it called?

“Get the guy,” Brown said. “We were just trying to guard their 3-point shooters, to get out on everything. It’s our 2-3 zone, with man-to-man … we just try to mix it up out of the huddle.

“It’s something like that, mixed up.”

It started messing with the Rebels when they were ahead, 12-2. Brown pumped up the Toreros with back-to-back 3-pointers, and sophomore center Nathan Lozeau’s close shot tied it, 19-19.

UNLV tried pulling away, leading by eight. But San Diego battled back and led, 43-42, on Brazilian center Robert Mafra’s easy transition basket with 12 minutes left.

Again, the Rebels slowly tried to distance themselves from the Toreros, and Bellfield’s stunning dunk gave UNLV that six-point cushion and a big boost by the crowd.

The Rebels got careless, but they pressed the Toreros non-stop and wore down the short-handed visitors.

Rougeau’s pair of free throws gave UNLV a 61-58 lead with 54 seconds left, and Bellfield emerged with another big play.

Rougeau and Wink Adams, who led the Rebels with 19 points, hounded Devin Ginty, who had caught the ensuing inbounds pass. Ginty turned it over, Bellfield grabbed it and fed Adams down low.

Ginty fouled Adams, who made one of two free throws.

Willis forced another turnover that Adams converted into another free throw.

Kruger said San Diego will be much better in two or three weeks, in January and in March.

“I think coach Grier will have an outstanding year,” he said.

The same could be said of Bellfield.

“We don’t have the easiest system to learn,” Hill said. “As a freshman, he’s right on pace. He’ll learn. He’s a student of the game. He works hard and he’ll keep gettin’ better.

“He got more stuff he ain’t showed you yet.”

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  1. This is one of the most overrated UNLV teams in years. Why can't Kruger coach these guys on how to break down a zone defense? I love the Rebels, but this team is destined for the NIT. Nice job Kruger.

  2. Definately a bit disappointing considering USD was missing some key players, especially Pomare who is a real force down low. I was expecting a more comfortable win. It seems like this team could struggle some early in the season but hopefully everything will come together come conference time. So far both Willis and Beas have been let downs. Hopefully they can turn it around as I was expecting big things from both.

  3. A bit early for such prognostications, eh rebfan? When they have 25 wins and are in the NCAAs, you'll be rooting like heck for them, right?
    Roth, probably a lot of people were expecting a lot of things out of the gate. But, remember, it's early. There's a big stretch of games in a short time coming up, so the learning curve will rise dramatically. Willis has not been disappointing. At all. That kid is a pro. His attitude is great. And he boosts the team. He'll take chances, but many will work out. Beas is coming along slowly. The only person that matters in his world is Kruger, and Kruger is happy with the progress Beas is making. It might not be as fast as some think, who rely on five-star or 10-star or 50-star bs rankings. That means squat. It won't be overnight with Beas. Kruger never said it would be. Was it with Lou Amundson or Joel Anthony? No. In two or three years, Beas will be exceptional.
    People panic way, WAY too easily.
    Look at Utah. Those fans have reason to panic.

  4. That's right Rob, finally someone that can bring some sense to the situation. We've started out slow the last two seasons. I'm sure rebfan4never said the same thing last year when we struggled to beat Montana St. and Adeife got kicked off the team. Don't forget, this is Lon Kruger we're talking about (he always delivers) and we've got several players that are just getting their feet wet.

  5. You guys -- don't even respond to "rebfan4evr."

    That handle is a disguise for, you guessed it, "Sufferin_Succotach."

    Same dude, same jilted-lover type comments, different handle!

  6. Great article Rob. I agree 100% that this is not the time to start panicking. They won a close game and had some real bright spots. Oscar was VERY impressive in his debut. That dunk was amazing. I can't wait to see what else he's got. Go Rebels!

  7. Yeah, Bleed, Lew Hill just kind of gave me a knowing glace after the game. Ain't seen nothin' yet, he says. I think it would be wise to reserve any and all judgment until after the UTEP game. There should be some big victories in the next week, and UTEP will be the next big test,,, on the road.
    As for suffrin or whatever he wants to write as, the long arm of permanent banishment will always find him.
    thanks for the notes.
    You are right, too, Fast ... all new squads need time to gel. It's why Kruger's squads most often play better in March than January, and better in January than November ... etc etc

  8. Great stuff Rob and I agree 100% with you!

  9. Thanks Glory. Keep checking us out for fresh updates, features and game-day previews and post-game wraps.
    They're coming at a furious pace for the next eight days. Enjoy