Last week’s 22-point loss to Utah in Air Force’s Mountain West Conference opener seemed like a harbinger for a dreadful year. UNLV – the team picked to finish second in the conference – was coming to town and road games at two of the tougher venues in the league loomed thereafter.
An 0-4 start to conference play seemed possible – even likely – if the Falcons fell to UNLV, it said here in this blog.
But Air Force looked like a different team against the Runnin’ Rebels. Some of that had to do with playing at home, but more than that, it was the Falcons’ shooting and offensive execution. After the Falcons went 3 for 18 in the second half of their loss to Utah, Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said his players had open shots, they just didn’t make them.
After the UNLV game, I asked him whether the team’s success shooting the ball (Air Force shot a season-best 61.8 percent from the floor) could be explained simply by the team hitting shots or if the offense created better looks.
“I think it was a combination of we were a little bit more aggressive, but I think the flow of the game and the style of the defense dictated how we played, and we were fortunate to make some shots,” Reynolds said. “We made some tough shots and we made some open shots.”
Now, all of a sudden, players who had lost confidence – according to Reynolds – seem to be feeling pretty good. And don’t underestimate the importance of that for a team with little experience.
In addition, a quick look at scores around the league should brighten the outlook of Air Force fans. Wyoming is struggling and just got blown out by TCU (not sure what’s going on up in Laramie, but the Cowboys shouldn’t be playing this poorly – especially with the best backcourt in the conference). San Diego State lost earlier this week to Northern Colorado, a team the Falcons handled. And BYU was beaten soundly by Wake Forest.
Now, all that said, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I wrote in my Utah Review that despite how bad the Falcons looked, “it was just one game.”
Other Quick Thoughts:
-Good news/bad news on the crowd.
Good news: The announced crowd of 5,146 was larger than I anticipated, and fans got behind the Falcons big-time. “There were stretches in the second half where it was as loud as I’ve heard it in Clune Arena,” junior Andrew Henke said.
Bad news: Pretty lame turnout by Section 8. Lots of empty seats in that end of the arena.
-I thought the new unis were sharp. Reynolds said he’d like to add another alternate uniform – perhaps black, perhaps silver. But the Falcons are 1-0 in gray. Maybe save those uniforms for special occasions, like the Notre Dame football team does with its green jerseys.
-Big-time kudos to Anwar Johnson for a courageous effort. I limited questions to him after the game because he really was struggling to speak. I wonder if he’ll be able to play this week. It might get to a point where he just has to shut it down for a game or two so he can get back to 100 percent.
-They were overshadowed by Tim Anderson’s 27 points and Keith Maren’s standout all-around play, but Henke made a number of great passes – particularly a dish inside to Anderson for a layup and also a pinpoint bounce pass to a cutting Eric Kenzik. Henke might have the best court vision on the team. It leads him to take some chances that backfire – see the full-court baseball pass that went out of bounds in the first half. But it also helps him make some big-time passes.