REBELS BASKETBALL:

Massamba’s goal: Make opposing guards feel his pain

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV forward Brice Massamba, left, and guard Oscar Bellfield pressure San Diego forward Roberto Mafra during the second half on Nov. 15 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 65-60.

North Carolina A&T (2-1) at UNLV Rebels (3-0)

  • Where: Thomas & Mack Center
  • When: 7 p.m.
  • Coaches: Jerry Eaves is 47-106 in six seasons at North Carolina A&T and overall; Lon Kruger is 94-42 in five seasons at UNLV and 412-275 in 23 overall seasons.
  • Series: First meeting
  • TV/Radio: None/Fox Sports Radio 920-AM

THE AGGIES

  • G Tavarus Alston (6-0, 165) 13 ppg, 5.7 apg, 3.3 rpg
  • F Julian McClurkin (6-8, 225) 3.0 ppg
  • F Robert Johnson (6-6, 200) 10.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg
  • F Ed Jones (6-7, 215) 14.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg
  • F Thomas Coleman (6-9, 220) 4.3 ppg, 6 rpg
  • Bench: F Nicholas Wilson (6-5, 210) 14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg; G Dwane Joshua (6-2, 180) 7.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg; G Marc Hill (5-8, 160) 3 ppg; F Kam Shepherd (6-8, 215) 2.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg.
  • What to watch: Eaves, who starred at Louisville, has directed the Aggies to consecutive 15-victory campaigns, not bad for a coach who went 1-26 his first season at the Grensboro, N.C., school. Coleman is NC A&T’s Rene Rougeau, someone who will chip in everywhere on the floor. Eaves dares the elite teams, like the Rebels, to press Alston and Hill.

THE REBELS

  • G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 175) 8.7 ppg, 5 apg
  • G Wink Adams (6-0, 200) 14 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg
  • F Rene Rougeau (6-6, 210) 9.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg
  • F Joe Darger (6-7, 225) 8.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg
  • C Darris Santee (6-8, 225) 7.3 ppg, 5 rpg
  • Bench: G Tre’Von Willis (6-4, 195) 4.3 ppg, 3.7 apg; F DeShawn Mitchell (6-5, 205) 9.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg; G Kendall Wallace (6-4, 190) 7.3 ppg; F Mo Rutledge (6-3, 225) 5.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg; C Beas Hamga (7-0, 225) 1.5 ppg, 2 rpg; C Brice Massamba (6-10, 255) 2 ppg, 1.7 rpg.
  • What to watch: Willis has a slightly separated right shoulder, so his availability might be limited. Bellfield might need to play 30-plus minutes at the point; he went 27, 23 and 26 in the first three games. Rutledge injured his right wrist Thursday and it has swelled. It won’t keep the lefty on the bench. With his dad and stepfather in the building, Mitchell might have an extra boost of energy. Look for Santee and Massamba to be more involved.

No wonder Swedish center Brice Massamba’s teammates at UNLV call him Truck.

Opposing guards, especially if they are defending Rebels point guards Oscar Bellfield or Tre’Von Willis, need side-view mirrors to keep track of the scarlet-and-gray Truck lurking around.

Or else.

Brandon Johnson of San Diego figured that out last Saturday afternoon when he ran into a mammoth Massamba screen and crumpled, near the top of the key, to free Bellfield for a dunk.

UNLV senior shooter Joe Darger has felt Brandon Johnson’s pain.

“When you run into a big guy like that, it’s definitely going to hurt if your teammates don’t talk to you and you’re not expecting it,” Darger said. “I’ve run into some big picks in my life.

“I’m bigger than some of those guards, and they hurt. It’s good for us if he can keep setting good picks and getting our guys open for good looks.”

A perpetual wide smile and playful demeanor belie the fact that Massamba, a 6-foot-10, 257-pound reserve center, might be the meanest Rebel on the court.

Call him Scania, after one of Sweden’s top producers of large trucks and buses.

The freshman flattened another San Diego foe, upon coach Lon Kruger’s instructions, just as Bellfield zipped by the halfcourt line.

“Coach just told me, on fast breaks, if you’re before Oscar set a pick for him so he can have a wide-open layup,” Massamba said after practice Friday morning.

“So I just did it. It’s coach’s idea. It wasn’t really my idea. It’s like they just ran into a truck.”

Bellfield was grateful.

“He just cleared that guy out with that big body of his,” said the freshman point guard. “That left the lane wide open. I got that dunk thanks to him.”

Kruger smiled.

“He’s moving that weight around a little bit,” he said of Truck. “I think he’ll just keep getting better as he gets in better condition. He’ll be stronger and better each month.”

Recruiting Massamba, who weighed 280 this summer and aims to get to 250, from Findlay College Prep has already looked like a wise move for Kruger and his staff.

The Rebels (3-0), who play host to North Carolina A&T (2-1) tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center, are undefeated because of the contributions of many players.

Massamba has been influential in many ways, some subtle, some as in-your-face as giving the other guys whiplash.

Tuesday, against Texas-Pan American, he sprawled out onto the court, knees and elbows banging off the wood, to snag a loose ball five minutes into the second half.

The moment he grabbed it he called for a timeout. Right in front of Kruger and the UNLV bench.

Soon after play resumed, Willis nailed a 3-point shot to boost the Rebels’ lead to 11 points.

“He understands what he needs to do,” Kruger said. “He doesn’t mind the physical contact, getting on the floor for loose balls.”

Bellfield loved seeing that aggressiveness.

“A lot of heart,” he said. “A lot of energy.”

Massamba enjoys setting that blue-collar tone.

“Yes sir, I do,” he said. “That’s just a normal thing. A loose ball. I wanted to have it more than the other guy.”

Early Thursday night, he was fed the ball on the right side. He backed Northern Arizona forward Josh Lepley down, used three power dribbles to get close and slipped it in off the backboard.

“One on one, there aren’t many guys who will overpower him,” Darger said. “He’s heavy and pretty strong. He’ll have his way with you if it’s one-on-one.

“One of our points of emphasis is to get the ball into Brice a little more, get some easy buckets inside to open things up for us outside.”

Massamba showed his deftness in that area when the ball was zipped to him down low in the final minute of the first half Thursday.

As quickly as it came into the post it went right back out, as Massamba fed an open Kendall Wallace, who drilled a 3-point shot for a 20-point cushion.

“We’ve said all along that he has a great feel for the game,” Kruger said. “He has a knack for when to set a screen, a knack for how to set a good screen and a knack for using his size in the post.

“His versatility in those areas is a hard thing to teach.”

Look for Massamba to get, well, more looks tonight.

“We need to start giving him the ball more,” Bellfield said. “Basically, he’s doing a lot. We have to give it back to him, let him get his buckets for the hard work he’s putting in.”

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