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Bellfield hasn’t got time for pain

Oscar Bellfield is a college sophomore who when asked if he could invite anyone to dinner, included the following:

Martin Luther King Jr. … a whole lot of history.

Oscar Robertson … a whole lot of hoops.

Keri Hilson and Lauren London … a whole lot of …

"Very beautiful," Bellfield said.

Give the kid credit. His priorities are straight.

Bellfield owns another: Continue playing through the pain in his left knee.

UNLV’s basketball team won its 20th game of the season Saturday and remains on track for an NCAA Tournament berth, but how far the Rebels might advance come March will have much to do with how Bellfield produces while playing at less than 100 percent.

I hate injury talk. I hate when others mention it first following a three-game losing streak when the final defeat came against a Utah team that UNLV had no business losing to once, never mind twice. It’s late February in a season that began in November. Everyone deals with injuries. No one cares how hurt a team is.

But for a player asked to handle the ball and make critical decisions each time down a court, a lack of explosion and ability to cut lessens his effectiveness. So you play through it and talk about the injury only when asked.

Bellfield does a terrific job of both.

He said Saturday that he felt the best since tweaking his knee against Brigham Young on Feb. 6, since feeling it buckle during a timeout and knowing something was wrong.

It helped Saturday to be playing Colorado State, a team amply labeled in this paper as a patsy. Which, following UNLV’s 70-39 victory, now seems too soft a description.

Stop the presses: The Rams just made shots on consecutive possessions.

They had one more two-point basket in the first half than a dead man.

They were the first of four inferior opponents UNLV will conclude its regular season against, and anyone within the Rebels program concerned with how the next three are portrayed within these pages should worry instead about not doing something stupid like losing to any of them.

Bellfield played 22 minutes against CSU and finished with nine points, three rebounds, four assists and two turnovers. He said his knee is 65 to 70 percent. It’s not going to get any worse by playing, and it seems all the ice he is treating it with allows him more movement as each game passes.

"I’ll take it as it comes," Bellfield said. "If it ever hurts too much and I’m hurting the team being out there, I’ll sit out. If I can play through it, I will. Whatever works.

"We executed really well today, went inside-out, didn’t force shots. The point had come where we needed a new start. We needed to start winning again."

He does things you absolutely need from a point guard and yet often are overlooked when final stats are distributed. Bellfield proved earlier this season he can be a scoring lead guard, averaging 11.1 points against nonleague teams. But even as his shooting suffered and offensive production dipped once Mountain West Conference play began, he continued to make smart decisions.

That’s not easy. That takes maturity. That means a player is more concerned with the greater good than anything he might accomplish individually. Bellfield recently went a four-game conference stretch of 128 minutes with three turnovers. He has had 19 games this season with two or fewer and three games with none. He is by far the league’s best in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6).

The next closest player — JayDee Luster of Wyoming — is at 1.9.

"Oscar has done a real good job for us," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "He has done a great job distributing the ball. I think over the summer he will continue to work on his shot and become even more of a scorer for us as a junior. He is just going to keep getting better and better."

UNLV needs Bellfield to be good the next several weeks — strong, reliable, all the things he has shown since a solid freshman season that saw him start 21 of 32 games. And when it allows, he needs to trust that left knee as he did early Saturday when taking a defender off the dribble from the top of the key, driving hard right and finishing with a layup.

It was a confident, explosive move.

Keri Hilson and Lauren London would have approved.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

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