BOISE, Idaho — When a new kid arrives in school, just fitting in is the first step. Reggie Smith made that type of move more than a month ago, and he’s waiting to take the next step.
Smith hitched a ride on a UNLV basketball team that was 11-2 in mid-December. Instead of immediately standing out, the sophomore point guard has spent a lot of time sitting.
"Actually, I didn’t know what to expect," he said. "Coming into a team that’s rolling, and everything is going well, what can you expect?"
The 12th-ranked Rebels, 18-3 overall and 2-1 in the Mountain West
Conference, still are rolling as they prepare to take on last-place Boise State (10-8, 0-3) at 7 p.m. today at Taco Bell Arena.
But a prediction made by UNLV coach Dave Rice in December, that Smith "can be a game-changing player for us," has yet to come to fruition.
"I still believe that," Rice said. "I have confidence in Reggie and still think he’s going to be a big factor for us down the stretch."
Smith, a midyear transfer from Marquette who became eligible at the semester break, believes it, too, even while he’s averaging just 4.1 points and 7.4 minutes after eight games.
The Rebels are deep in the backcourt, with senior Oscar Bellfield and junior Anthony Marshall averaging more than 30 minutes per game and junior Justin Hawkins establishing himself as the top reserve.
"It’s difficult to get those guys off the floor," Rice said. "It’s extremely difficult to step in as a point guard with the experienced guys that he has playing ahead of him."
Smith, who has seen double-digit minutes in two games, is not disappointed. He was not even discouraged after playing four unproductive minutes in a loss at San Diego State on Jan. 14.
Rice feels more comfortable sticking with Bellfield and Marshall running the team in pressure situations, but he communicates with Smith to reassure him that he fits into the plan.
"He thought I was mad," Smith said of a talk with Rice after the San Diego State game. "He talks to me after the games, and he lets me know what’s going on, but I’m getting older now, and I know what’s going on. I’m just growing up and being mature about the situation.
"We have a deep team. We’re not worried about the minutes. We’re more concerned about the ‘W’ and doing whatever it takes to win. A lot of these guys are naturally just so unselfish that they’re going to do whatever it takes, even if that means sacrificing their minutes."
Smith is not the only player seeing his time get squeezed while Rice tries to work 10 players into the rotation.
Senior guard Kendall Wallace, still working through issues from right knee surgery, has been used sparingly, and Brice Massamba, Carlos Lopez and Quintrell Thomas are sharing time at the center spot with their minutes fluctuating on a situational basis.
"Those guys have hung in there and had great attitudes, and that’s why it has been able to work," Rice said. "The tough thing for the guys who aren’t regulars in our rotation is they get different opportunities on different nights, and yet they have responded very well.
"Kendall has been a leader. I know he’s frustrated that his knee hasn’t responded a little better, but he has been 100 percent a great teammate. We need all those guys."
Smith’s most extensive opportunity came in a 124-75 victory over Central Arkansas on Dec. 28, when he made 3 of 5 3-pointers and totaled 13 points and five assists in 11 minutes.
He has not changed games, but Smith said he’s learning behind Bellfield and Marshall, fitting in and making bigger plans for the future.
"I’m a lot more consistent with my jump shot," Smith said. "My confidence is so high right now. Whenever I get an open look, I’m going to shoot it. When I’m in, I try to help the team as much as I can.
"As long as we’re winning, I’m fine. I’m going to be the point guard next year. I know my time will come, and when it does I’ll be ready."
■ NOTES — Boise State guard Jeff Elorriaga, called the team’s "glue guy" by coach Leon Rice, fractured his right thumb in Saturday’s 54-52 loss at Texas Christian and was ruled out for the season Monday. The Rebels beat the Broncos 75-72 in a nonconference game at Orleans Arena last season, after UNLV nearly blew a 22-point lead.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.UNLV VS. BOISE STATE
WHEN: 7 p.m. today
WHERE: Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho
TV/RADIO: The Mtn. (334), KWWN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM)
LINE: UNLV -9.5; total 147