Cougar Bounces: Air Force

Near the end of conference victories in the Marriott Center, fans like to chant "Just like football" to rub salt into the opponent's wounds. That cheer was doubly applicable after BYU's win against Air Force on Tuesday. Not only did the Cougars beat the Falcons on the road in both football and basketball, but BYU is Mountain West Conference champions in both sports too.

It had been the scene of many a nightmares in recent years. Several BYU teams went into Clune Arena and got spanked soundly and sent to bed, but on Tuesday night, the Cougars were wide awake the entire game and pulled off the upset.

BYU won 62-58 on sheer grit, tenacity and timely defense. This was a complete team victory. Four Cougars finished in double figures, but no one had more than 14. Four Cougars had at least five rebounds, which was key as Air Force held a rebounding edge at the half that BYU overcame by the final buzzer.

The Cougars' team defense held No. 25 Air Force scoreless for the final 4:41 of the game. In fact, with about 12 minutes to go, the Falcons knocked down a three-pointer to stretch the lead to a game-high 11 points at 49-38. The sold-out crowd was rocking on senior night and BYU looked as if it might be finished.

The Cougars showed their "stick-to-itiveness," however, and refused to yield. They finished the game on a 24-9 run. They made stops on defense, forced Air Force into long threes, grabbed offensive rebounds off missed shots and free throws. The Cougars wanted it more in the end.

Now they can celebrate a share of the MWC title. A win on Saturday against Utah would clinch the first out-right conference championship for BYU since 1988. That game against the Utes will start at 5:30 p.m. and can be seen on CSTV.


Point: B. If you had told Coach Rose that Austin Ainge would again have six turnovers, he would likely have told you that the Cougars were headed for a loss. This time, things were different. Ainge scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half and finished with five assists and a game-high six rebounds. One difference was that his turnovers this time did not lead to Air Force fast breaks. They were costly, but not nearly so much. Ainge was also solid on defense.

Wing: B. A tough grade, but the position was quite spotty. Jimmy Balderson did have 11 points and five rebounds, but he missed some key free throws. Lee Cummard had five and played good defense on Dan Nwaelele (who shot just 4-for-12). It seemed that the wings were just a tad off, they were solid, which is a "B" grade.

Post: B+. Again, the position was spotty. Although, 22 points and 11 rebounds is a good outing I was expecting more from Keena Young and Trent Plaisted. Plaisted also had three blocks. The post earns the "plus" thanks to Plaisted's free throws. The much maligned sophomore hit four of five including two late that helped seal the game. For someone who had struggled from the line, those are the kinds of makes that can lead to some confidence.

Coach: A. Coach Rose did an excellent job of managing the game. He called timeouts effectively to stem momentum. Coming out of timeouts, BYU had good plays called and usually got a good look at the basket and then a make. They had an answer for everything Air Force tried. He had the team ready to go from the opening tip. He deserves consideration for a second straight MWC Coach of the Year.

Spiff's Observations

- With the win, the Cougars ended the nation's longest home win streak. BYU now has the longest streak with a chance to extend it 31 games.

- Senior Night activities should be held prior to the final home game, not after. Wyoming did this a few years ago, BYU did it in 2005, and Air Force did it last night. The looks on the cadets' faces showed they wanted nothing more than to get out of there, but they had to stick around and be honored. These ceremonies should be before the game. Because if the team losses, it is anti-climatic and they players just want to leave.

- I must confess that I sold the Cougars short. When Air Force went up by 11, I turned to Scott Paul and said, "That's the game." He was sure to remind me, after the win, that I had said the game was over.

- MWC officials are a joke. If you don't believe me, go watch the final minute. Ainge is standing right next to the official, calling for a time out. The ref "doesn't see him" and whistles him for a five-second violation. Then replay it and you'll notice the ref's arm goes straight out four times and then immediately into the five second call. The ref had already decided to call the violation. Then the same ref on the very next play rules a ball that went out of bounds to be BYU ball. But, even though the play happened right in front of him, he did not see the ball go off of Ainge's knee. Just atrocious, inconsistent officiating.

- The win gives BYU the No. 1 seed in the MWC tournament. They will play the winner of the 8/9 game – New Mexico and TCU.

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