In as physical and hard fought defensive battle as I've seen in a while, the Birds really showed their mettle, again refusing to collapse under tremendous pressure. This despite having probably their worst statistical game of the year. If anyone had told me we'd be out-rebounded by almost 20, hit only three 3-pointers, shoot only about 66% from the line and that Danny would get into foul trouble early, I'd have written the game off. However, Air Force's defense proved that while they've given up some points of late, when they want to play shut-down ball against very talented players, they can do it. Best evidence of that was a season-high THREE shot clock violations by UNLV all in a crucial stretch of the second half. The number might've been even higher had UNLV chosen not to take long, low-percentage threes as the clock wound down. In all, their 1-18 3-point shooting was more a function of the Falcons' great defense than anything else.
Biggest team improvement had to be the inside defense and weak-side help. While we made some mistakes in the first half, the second half was a completely different story. Against UNLV's defense, the Falcons handled the ball well except for a couple of lazy, telegraphed passes and some pushes and reaches that on any other night would've sent Rebel players to the bench/bus with 5 fouls.
For most of the game, the referees couldn't seem to find their whistles. Traveling? Nah. Three seconds? Didn't see it. Hand-checking, pushes, the aforementioned reach-in? No harm, no foul. Goal-tending? huh-uh. Fouls on the three-point shooter after he let the ball go? Nope, I was watching the ball in the air like most of you. And the Rebs capitalized on the poor officiating by bullying the Falcons throughout the game. Has ANYONE seen an AFA game in the last four years where we didn't draw a SINGLE charge? We had one offensive foul call against UNLV on a moving screen--that's it.
For the umpteenth time, balance was the Air Force game. One player after another stepped up when a teammate faltered or missed a shot. Tim Anderson and Matt McCraw may be the best defensive rebounding guards in the country. They both ripped down massive RBs in the last six minutes. John Frye again made instant impact with a swatting block, a nice jump hook, and some big rebounds. The refs had no love for Big John, though, and called him for a charge immediately after he was run down by their #52 on the opposite side. Still, we wouldn't have won this one without John.
Welcome back, Nick (Welch)! Great moves to the hole, excellent passes, and absolutely the best D you've played all year. A breakout game just when we needed it and a well-deserved MVP nod from Jim Arthur.
Matt's two 3-pointers in the first half gave us a little separation (that we squandered early in the 2nd), and his ball-handling was again nearly flawless. Can the man sky for an RB? Can he play D? Yes, indeed he can.
Tim made up for missing an opening lay-up with a couple of nifty inside moves and his patented "you didn't see me, did you" steals off inbound passes.
Jake Burtschi showed no ill-signs of his turned ankle or upper respiratory issues and hustled throughout. Not his flashiest game, but certainly one of his most solid.
UNLV seemed to focus on shutting Danny down above all. For much of the game they succeeded--offensively. Still, he played great D and when they gave him an inch, he responded with a huge slam. His 3-pointer late in the game to stretch the lead to 7 may be remembered as one of THE critical shots of the season. (Just behind it in importance might be Tim's last steal and Nick's driving lay-up that drew a goal-tending call.) It was his only long-ranger, but it meant so much.
Air Force shot poorly from the free throw line or they could've iced it in the second half several times. I hope we've gotten that out of our systems for awhile. Hard to believe this was the same team that didn't miss one against GWU.
I just can't say enough about the mental toughness our players and staff have shown in these last two games. Calm, cool, and always in control. At Colorado State, they faced some hot shooters and two Sequoias. Tonight, they faced probably the best defense they'll see all year, and they pulled it out.
The Birds (Falcons) are moving on up, no doubt about it!
Final words... Refs: Boo. Next time, both teams would be better if we called our own fouls. The worst I've seen all year.
Crowd: Yeah!!! Great turnout! Very loud when it counted. Good job, preppies! Tuesday better be SRO with the cadets back in town.
Whoever was responsible for traffic flow, parking, etc (10 ABW, AD, both): Boo! Double Boo! Some folks didn't get into Clune until half-time. Departure was marred by not enough traffic direction on Stadium and North Gate and lanes inexplicably closed to go out the South Gate. You knew it was going to be a sell-out. Deal with it. The good news is that folks will learn to arrive early--good news if they decide to come back.
Thanks also to the Friends Of Air Force Basketball for the nice reception pre-game. Great seeing everyone!
The Falcons host the New Mexico
Lobos at Clune Arena (aka The Chamber) on Tue, 9 Jan 07. Game time is 7 pm