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Pair at point showing promise

Memo to the person who keeps official stats for UNLV basketball games: Tre’Von Willis wants to have a little chat.

Focus is paramount for those entrusted with running any team at this level, and it appears Willis isn’t lacking for much.

"I’m a little bummed," he said. "I got six assists, but I see one turnover in there. I don’t remember turning the ball over. I remember no turnovers. I’m going to watch the film three times and see where that came from."

Two games have translated into two victories and still the Rebels are shooting as if someone played a cruel joke and decreased the Thomas & Mack Center rims by nine inches in diameter.

The misses nearly cost UNLV a game Saturday but had no such dramatic influence Tuesday, when the Rebels dismissed Texas-Pan American, 73-48.

Point guards become more significant when shots run cold, when one clank leads to another and someone has to assume control and not let things run amok. The Rebels are asking a true freshman and sophomore transfer to share the role.

Two games and two wins later, they could be in far worse shape.

The preseason assumption was that Willis would start, that the former Memphis player had enough experience and time in UNLV’s system while sitting out here last season to join a lineup that included three seniors.

Assumptions couldn’t have seen Oscar Bellfield coming.

Watch the freshman during pregame introductions, with all the lights flashing and cheerleaders jumping and players banging into mascots. He jogs out, slaps a few high-fives and stands in line. Like he’s been doing it for years. Like he belongs. It’s the temperament you want in a point guard. Calm and confident.

Bellfield was very good Saturday against San Diego (13 points, six assists, three steals, two turnovers) and not nearly as consistent Tuesday night (five points on 2-for-6 shooting, four assists, three turnovers), but he scored five of UNLV’s first seven second-half points as the Rebels began to run away.

His baskets came when it mattered most. There’s something to be said for that, too.

It’s going to be like this for Bellfield. Some great games. Some bad ones. Many in between. He’s a freshman. It works that way.

Which makes Willis so incredibly important.

Specifically, how he responds when coming off the bench.

Perception can be a brutal challenge to meet. When you transfer from an elite program, expectations are bound to be ridiculously elevated from those outside voices who cheer the program. Willis could end up being an all-conference player. He could end up being just another guy. It’s impossible to know yet.

"Tre’ has been great," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "I thought he really played well tonight. It’s the combination of getting both (Willis and Bellfield) doing the things they can for us.

"We’ll bounce back and forth with starters probably all year long. I think Tre’ and Oscar know that. The key for both, as they have done so far, is to be supportive of one another and take care of that position. We’ve had our moments so far, but it’s a good starting point."

The one thing you can see is that Willis could become a defensive pest against smaller guards. He could push them farther from their comfort spot, make them initiate offense from difficult places. He’s athletic enough at 6 feet 4 inches to create numerous turnovers.

You can also see he gets a bit antsy at the offensive end.

His line Tuesday night — 17 minutes, six points on 2-for-7 shooting, six assists, one steal, one (according to Willis) phantom turnover — was highlighted by how he helped others. How he drove into seams and found open teammates. How he shared the ball.

But there is a tendency for Willis to get impatient for shots when they don’t come his way every third trip or so. It’s one thing that separates Bellfield and him so far. The freshman doesn’t seem as anxious to score.

"Of course I want to start," Willis said. "Every player does. But I’m going to take it upon myself to be that spark off the bench. I’m OK with that role. I want to bring energy, get guys pumped up, get people easy shots, set a tone."

The tone so far has been drowned out by too many misses. Decent point guard play can help conceal all that. It can keep things from really going crazy.

Two wins later, UNLV could be in far worse shape at the position.

Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

 

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