Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer discuss UNLV's 88-58 victory over South Carolina Upstate on Saturday night, as the Rebels showed solid maturity in what could have been a sloppy look-ahead effort 12 hours before taking off for Hawaii.
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UNLV (10-1) took the floor with a commercial flight to Honolulu — for a week in paradise at the Diamond Head Classic — just 12 hours away, the bags literally already packed in the locker room.
South Carolina Upstate came in with a 1-8 record, and the seats in the building were far from full.
Instead, the Rebels showed a good amount of maturity, avoiding taking a step back and playing the Spartans as if they were the Los Angeles Lakers. Using 40 minutes of consistent intensity — especially on the defensive end — UNLV stifled USCU in an 88-58 rout.
"We're getting better each game at staying focused, knowing what our task is and finishing it off," sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield said. "It says we're mature."
Bellfield was part of a starting five that set the tone right from tip-off, as the Rebels used heavy backcourt pressure to get the Spartans winded early on, then capitalized by building a 7-0 lead in less than two minutes.
UNLV scored 28 points off 20 Upstate turnovers.
"We always pressure full-court, but we trapped out of it a little bit more tonight," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "I thought our intensity was pretty consistent from start to finish.
"We opened the ball game with really good activity, forcing some turnovers and creating some offense from that. Even given the margin, I thought their enthusiasm defensively remained good the last 20 minutes, so I'm really pleased to see that."
Eventually, that defensive intensity opened up opportunities for a few oddities late in the game, and members of the crowd of 11,300 who left early missed a couple true gems.
The first came with just more than five minutes left when UNLV sophomore Brice Massamba — all 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds of him — stole the ball at mid-court from Ryan LeGates. Instead of distributing to a teammate, Massamba rumbled down the floor and finished with a graceful bucket.
"With Brice, I was like, 'Oh my God, Brice ... OK, cool, cool,'" Bellfield said with a smile. "For his size and ability to really finish it, he did a great job. I think he has ability to do that."
The other unusual highlight came from freshman guard Anthony Marshall, who continued to impress with his ability to produce key hustle plays. He finished the night with six points, five steals, four rebounds and one memorable blocked shot.
With 1:17 to go, Upstate's 7-foot-3 Nick Schneiders — who had a great night with 22 points, seven boards and five swats — went up for a short jumper on the left block.
Standing face-to-face with the giant, Marshall rose and got the ball — and maybe a hint of Schneiders' wrist — drawing rave reviews from spectators.
"I tried to jump off the ground right before he did, and I just happened to get a piece of it," he said. "So I guess it was a good night."
The final stat sheet was littered with positives for the Rebels.
Bellfield and junior guard Kendall Wallace shared top scoring honors for UNLV, tallying 16 points apiece. The two combined to go 8-of-13 from 3-point range, and UNLV as a team was 10-of-28.
The Rebels also took care of the ball pretty well, finishing with 17 assists and only seven turnovers, which was especially impressive with reserves eating up many of the second-half minutes.
UNLV also was without leading scorer Tre'Von Willis, who averages 16.1 points per outing through nine games. On top of some minor back pain, Willis turned his ankle in the first half of Thursday's 72-63 victory over Weber State.
"He'll be fine in a couple of days," Kruger said. "I think probably if it was a playoff game tonight or a tournament game, he probably could have (played), but not quite."
Kruger said he expects Willis to be a go Tuesday, when the Rebels open up a stretch of three games in four days in Honolulu against SMU at 7:30 p.m. Las Vegas time.
And after seeing his team not overlook the Spartans, he expects the same across the board.
"(The) potential for losing focus was certainly there," he said. "And I thought our guys did a pretty good job of maintaining focus, especially with the intensity."