AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — As a senior, Oscar Bellfield can reflect on numerous big shots he has hit during his career.
Most memorable was his running bank shot with 16 seconds left in UNLV’s 56-55 upset win at Louisville on Dec. 31, 2008, midway through his freshman season.
Most recent, but not nearly as dramatic, was his 3-pointer with two minutes to go in overtime in the Rebels’ 77-72 victory at Boise State on Wednesday.
“It definitely was a big shot,” Bellfield said. “If it’s open, I’m taking it. I’ve been shooting 3s since I got here.”
He can remember several missed shots, too, and Bellfield’s inconsistent relationship with his long-distance jumper is symbolic of UNLV’s struggles in its two Mountain West Conference road games.
When the going gets tough on the road, shooters often settle for 3-pointers, and a team that relies on 3s can expect volatile results.
“It was too many 3s because of the 3s that we took,” coach Dave Rice said of the season-high 34 attempts Wednesday. “I wasn’t pleased with the pace of our offense and the spacing, and that becomes a recurring theme.”
Three days after barely surviving a scare against the league’s last-place team, the 12th-ranked Rebels (19-3, 3-1) face a similar opponent in Air Force (11-7, 1-3) at 6 p.m. today.
The Falcons, who routed the Broncos 74-59 on Jan. 14 in Boise, will throw a zone defense at UNLV and hope it hits a low percentage of 3s.
“We need to work on going inside-outside and getting better 3s,” Bellfield said. “We have to realize that passing around the horn is not going to help. We’ve got to attack or throw it inside and let the bigs make the play.”
The Rebels take pride in their 3-point shooting success, because they hold the NCAA Division I record for most consecutive games — 827 — making at least one, and they hit 13 in a November upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina.
Bellfield connected on four 3s against the Tar Heels, and at the time he was shooting 20-for-46 (43.5 percent) from long range. But in the 15 games since, he is 17-for-64 (26.6 percent).
“Seeing the shots not go in is kind of frustrating sometimes. But then again, it happens, and you’ve got to forget about it and keep playing and block out all the misses,” said Bellfield, who has 190 field-goal attempts this season, including 110 from 3-point range.
Among Rebels with at least 10 3-point attempts, sophomore guard Reggie Smith shoots the highest percentage (.600, 6-for-10). Smith, the backup point guard to Bellfield, sank his only 3 against Boise State and was pulled from the game after playing four first-half minutes.
Smith is followed on the team’s 3-point shooting chart by Chace Stanback (.479, 56-for-117), Kendall Wallace (.361, 22-for-61), Justin Hawkins (.349, 29-for-83), Bellfield (.336, 37-for-110), Mike Moser (.333, 25-for-75) and Anthony Marshall (.288, 15-for-52).
The 3-point shot has provided a boost for UNLV in its 11 games at the Thomas & Mack Center, where it has shot 107-for-247 (.433) and averaged 22.5 attempts per game. But in conference road games at San Diego State and Boise State, the Rebels shot a lower percentage (.344) with a higher average of attempts (30.5).
“When we struggle at times, particularly on the road, it’s because we don’t cut hard enough and we run on top of each other. The problem is they are open 3s that are not taken in the flow of the offense,” Rice said. “We cannot just rely on shooting quick, semi-contested 3s.
“I give our guys tremendous freedom, and I think we’ve shot the ball well for the most part, largely because we have good shooters and also because they have confidence to know they can shoot when open.”
UNLV’s 3-point streak almost died at Clune Arena in a 56-50 loss to Air Force on Jan. 6, 2007. The Rebels shot 1-for-18 on 3s, with Kevin Kruger, then a senior point guard, finally making one with 1:55 left. Kruger led that team to 30 wins and the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
Last January, the Rebels’ shooters did another Clune swoon, hitting only 6 of 24 3-pointers, but they rallied late for a 64-52 victory over the Falcons. Bellfield (2-for-9), Stanback (2-for-8) and Marshall (0-for-4) had performances to forget.
For all the thrills that come with the 3-pointer, UNLV would seem wiser to take more of a no-frills approach and use its size and strength advantages to attack the rim with dribble penetration and get higher percentage shots against Air Force.
“The trap that so many teams fall into when they go to Clune Arena is to stand around and pass the ball around the perimeter, and then (shoot) when the shot clock runs down,” Rice said. “The most important thing is player movement and ball movement.”
■ NOTES — Moser is recovering from the flu, but he practiced Friday and will start today. Rice said sophomore forward Carlos Lopez, who sprained his right ankle in the second half Wednesday, is doubtful.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.UNLV VS. AIR FORCE
WHEN: 6 p.m. today
WHERE: Clune Arena, Air Force Academy, Colo.
TV/RADIO: The Mtn. (334), KWWN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM)
LINE: UNLV -11; total 132