Different coaches have different strategies on how to help their key guys through shooting slumps.
If Dave Rice’s was any different, Oscar Bellfield may not have delivered in the clutch on Wednesday night in a gritty 77-72 overtime win at Boise State.
Bellfield entered the game just 5-of-23 from the floor and 4-of-16 from 3-point range in three conference games — a struggle that had plagued him since early December.
During an 8-0 start to the season, he was a 47.4 percent shooter. Even after hitting a trio of key 3-pointers after halftime in Boise, he’s 32.1 shooter since going 5-of-11 in a double-overtime win at UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 4.
But he’s kept shooting, and that’s all that Rice requests.
“We don’t win that game if Oscar doesn’t make those huge threes in the second half,” Rice said. “That will always be my philosophy, that Oscar, or whomever we may be speaking of, is a good shooter, and when his feet are set, he needs to shoot.
“That’s simply my philosophy, and it’s going to continue to be that.”
Bellfield was still just 4-of-13 from the floor on Wednesday, but hitting some big shots gave him something to show for all of the work that has continued to go on behind the scenes.
Bellfield’s defensive presence and his 5.2 assists per game have continued to make him a valuable commodity to Rice, and his team-high 30.9 minutes per game are a sign of Rice’s continued faith in him.
But the wave of missed shots are what have brought on some criticism from the outside.
Through it all, Bellfield has remained the last guy to leave the practice floor almost every day, putting more work into his shot than anyone else on the roster.
The law of averages indicated that it had to end at some point.
“It was really just not even thinking about it, just letting go, letting it come to me,” Bellfield said. “You kind of question it, like ‘Dang, all this extra time put in, what’s going on?’ I just look at it as eventually it’ll pay off, so stay doing the same thing and hopefully it pays off in the long run.
“It’s not how I wanted it to be, but it’s a starting point, so I’ve got to gradually keep progressing.”
Bellfield agreed that Rice’s approach to combatting the slump, rather than telling him to stop shooting as much, played a role, too.
“Just mentally, knowing that he doesn’t mind me shooting, doesn’t mind me taking a shot as long as it’s within the offense and it’s a good look,” he said. “That helps a lot, and it helped a lot (Wednesday), actually, in the second half, and that’s why the outcome was what it was.”
Deep down, Bellfield is as frustrated with his individual play as some of the vocal outside minority are, but he maintains that it’s tough to complain too much, given the fact that the Rebels are ranked 12th in the nation, keep winning and are well in the hunt for their first ever Mountain West regular season title.
“Individually, I’m not happy at all,” he said. “I feel like I haven’t even played how I’m capable of playing, but as far as the season, I’m happy. As long as we’re winning, I’m fine with it. I also know there are still games left, so there’s time for me to improve.”
On Air Force …
UNLV (19-3 overall, 3-1 Mountain West) and Air Force (11-7, 1-3) will tip-off at 6 p.m. on Saturday from Clune Arena. It will be shown on The Mtn. The Falcons are young and have had mixed results this season. After winning their league opener at Boise State, they’ve dropped three in a row, but all three games have been close and competitive. Most recently was a 59-56 loss at TCU on Wednesday night. A key theme this season for the Falcons has been health, as they’ve rarely been at full strength. They were without their best player — 6-foot-6 junior Michael Lyons — for six games through December and January due to a high ankle sprain. On the season, he’s averaging a team-high 13.8 points per game, but only 6.3 in three games back from the injury. The latest walking wounded is 6-foot-2 junior guard Todd Fletcher, who is tied for third on the team at 9.7 ppg, and leads the team in assists per game along with Taylor Stewart, averaging 3.1. Fletcher hurt his left foot late against TCU, and is a game-time decision for Saturday. UNLV has not lost at Clune Arena since the 2007-08 season (three straight wins).
Lopez a game-time decision
UNLV sophomore forward Carlos Lopez, who sprained his right ankle for the second time this season during Wednesday’s second half, is a game-time decision for Saturday, according to Rice.
Lopez is averaging 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 14 minutes per game off of the bench this season.