Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If you think it seems like ages ago when UNLV went on the road and took down then-No. 18 Louisville in Freedom Hall to cap its non-conference season, it's a sure bet that it feels even longer ago for Oscar Bellfield.
The freshman point guard, in case you forgot, hit an awkward layup while driving against massive Louisville freshman forward Samardo Samuels in the waning moments to secure the 56-55 win.
Since then, an encounter with the so-called "freshman wall" has kept Bellfield's name from being mentioned much.
But that doesn't mean his first run through the Mountain West Conference slate hasn't taught him anything.
"Conference is a whole other level, a whole other atmosphere, intensity-wise," he said. "There's gonna be ups and downs, but you have to be able to fight through it."
When cutting to the chase, the fact is that most of Bellfield's struggles of late have to do with scoring the ball.
Since the start of conference play, which got underway just three days after his heroic bank-shot in the Bluegrass State, his offensive production has steadily declined.
Following his 3-for-8 performance at Louisville, he was shooting 46.7 percent from the floor. In 16 league games, he fired at a 31-percent clip.
His 3-point percentage, which was at 43.9 percent following the non-conference portion of the schedule, is at 23.7 percent in MWC games.
"It's just been rough, really," Bellfield said. "Shots aren't falling, I dunno. Basically, it's just shots not falling, minor mistakes. You've got to adapt to it, work inside-out and keep playing."
Bellfield was thrown a bit off track when he pulled the hamstring in his left leg two games into conference play, during the second half of an 80-73 loss at TCU.
While working his way back, he'd come off the bench rather than start over UNLV's next six games, going a combined 11-of-34 from the floor while averaging 20.5 minutes.
Even though the hammy has healed up as the Rebels head into Thursday's league tournament opener with San Diego State, Bellfield said he still thinks about it from time to time.
He also has the Aztecs to thank for his other nagging woe -- his left wrist. Bellfield landed on it awkwardly in the first meeting of the season on Feb. 3, then did so again against SDSU in Saturday's regular season finale loss at Cox Arena.
He enters Thursday having practiced with a thicker-than-normal wrap on it, but said it's no big deal.
That's the mindset he's beginning to understand is necessary to succeed at the Division I level over the next three seasons. He's figuring it out as the season closes.
Bellfield still has time to do something about his offensive slip-up, which he said can also be attributed to the hit his confidence took during MWC play. It was his confidence that helped ease his transition from powerhouse Westchester High in Los Angeles to UNLV.
"Maybe it went down a little bit, but I can feel it coming back," Bellfield said. "I'm not really worrying about what shots to take. If it's open, just let it go and don't think about it, attack people off the dribble and just know that I can do that and just play."
No one's ridden Bellfield too hard, though, as he's maintained productivity in other ways while his scoring has dropped.
He had 50 assists to just 24 turnovers in conference play, which ranked third in the Mountain West behind only Wyoming's Brandon Ewing and BYU's Jackson Emery.
"It's not like he's been a senior point guard for us, but he's grown a lot, he's stayed aggressive and has unlimited potential," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "I really like what he's done.
"Our problem's not been his struggles. I wouldn't blame Oscar for that at all. He's not the guy that's supposed to be scoring. He's supposed to be doing what he's doing, and he's doing a good job."
Still, the inner-competitor within Bellfield wants to do everything he can to help UNLV out of its recent offensive doldrums. The Rebels have scored 46 points in each of their last two games, marking the first time since UNLV's first season of basketball -- 1958-59 -- that it's gone back-to-back games without scoring at least 50.
The Rebels head into the MWC postseason tourney at 21-9 overall, 9-7 in league and more than likely needing three wins in three days to reach the field of 65 for the third consecutive season.
Bellfield feels like he has plenty still to offer.
After all, this was the same guy who finished off the Big East regular season champs.
"That's been awhile, and that's what it feels like," he said. "But we've got more games to go, more moments like that can happen.
"I want (the seniors) to go out with a big bang, in a positive way. Losing and not going to the (NCAA) tournament is nothing positive at all."