2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Air Force 70, Wyoming 63 – Rapid Reaction

    Sat, January 30, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds caught part of the Gonzaga-Santa Clara game on Thursday night when he got home from the academy.

    A young Santa Clara team, playing at home, led by 11 mid-way through the second half. Its lead was down to five, 64-59, with just less than six minutes to play. And Santa Clara would not score again. Gonzaga ended up winning, 71-64.

    Reynolds could relate.

    “I could see the whole coaching staff knowing it was slipping away because their players seemed to not know how to win,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something you do over night. I think that’s something you have to mature with.”

    Maybe the Falcons finally are learning how to win.

    Last season Air Force lost at home to TCU by three. It lost at home to Colorado State by five. It lost at home to Wyoming by three. It let potential upsets slip away at UNLV, losing 46-43, and BYU, losing 54-49.

    This season the Falcons squandered a second-half lead and lost at TCU. And last week they led UNLV at halftime but could not pull out a victory.

    Today, finally, they found a way to win.

    And while ending the ugly 22-game losing streak in Mountain West Conference regular season games was big, it might have been how they won that was so important. Air Force had a lead in the first half and lost it. And then, after scoring on five straight possessions to go up 49-42, Wyoming went on an 8-0 run to re-take the lead.

    So many times since Air Force’s last regular season Mountain West Conference victory on March 8, 2008, the Falcons had been in similar situations. And wilted. This time, thanks in large part to Evan Washington, they handled adversity and came through when it counted. Washington hit a jumper and then a 3. Freshman Michael Lyons drained a 3 with a good bounce. And then Washington hit six straight free throws (the first four being the front- and back-ends of one-and-ones).

    Yes, it was just one game. It’s not time to break open the champagne. But simply getting a victory, knowing they can find ways to win, could mean the world to this team.

    “I think it will build confidence a lot,” Washington said. “This year I think we have a tougher team than we did last year. Last year we kind of let losing become a part of our mentality. We’ve finally figured out that we have to go into each and every game playing to win. That’s what we did today.”

    Other Thoughts:
    -Reynolds gave an assist to the announced crowd of 3,414 at Clune Arena.

    It was the biggest crowd to watch the Falcons at home during conference play this season. And by far the loudest.

    “Clune got loud today,” Reynolds said. “It got loud today. I don’t know what the attendance was, but I thought about the fans and thanking them for coming out today.”

    -It’s all about the 3.

    When Air Force is hitting from the perimeter, it has a chance to win.

    Today, the Falcons tied a season high by hitting 11 from beyond the 3-point arc. Six players hit 3s, with Michael Lyons nailing 3-of-5, and Evan Washington, Mike Fitzgerald and Todd Fletcher all hitting two apiece.

    Air Force went 11-of-25 from 3-point range in the game (44.0 percent) including 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) in the second half.

    -Already without leading scorer Afam Muojeke (knee), Wyoming did not have starting center Adam Waddell (ankle), who had scored 13 points with 22 rebounds in the Cowboys’ previous game.

    But complaining to Air Force about injuries is like complaining to an Alaskan about the cold. Seven key Falcons have missed a combined 45 games this season, and starting center Sammy Schafer (post-concussion symptoms) and guard/forward Taylor Stewart (wrist) both still are out.

    -Memories from Air Force’s distant past and recent glory days came flooding back at halftime when about 15 former players were introduced to the crowd as part of the program’s homecoming weekend.

    Among those in attendance were 1959 grad Robert Blake, former great big man Randy Gricius, a 1979 grad, and Jacob Burtschi, John Frye and Tim Anderson – key cogs in the Falcons’ great run from 2003 through 2007.

    Tough to say who got the biggest cheer. Either Anderson or Burtschi.

    -Much of the game story I wrote today was about the Falcons wanting to win.

    Don’t doubt their desire.

    It’s 7:56 p.m. as I write this from courtside at Clune. I had thought I was the last person here.

    I’m not.

    Mike McLain came back on the court at about 7:30. He spent some time working on free throws and 3-pointers, some time sprinting up and down the floor and making layups, and some time working on post moves around and through some folding chairs he set up on the floor. Now he’s running sprints from sideline to sideline.

    That’s dedication.

  • UNLV 60, Air Force 50 – Rapid Reaction

    Wed, January 27, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said it best after the game:

    “We competed,” he said. “But that’s still not satisfaction.”

    Indeed, after the Falcons lost four straight by an average of 20 points, it had to be encouraging for them to take a team like UNLV down to the wire – on the Rebels’ home court no less.

    But there won’t be complete satisfaction until competing turns into winning.

    And if it’s going to happen, it’s got to happen in the next two weeks. For two intertwined reasons:

    Reason one: The Falcons finally are relatively healthy. Grant Parker, their top player, is back and now has two games under his belt. That leaves Air Force without just two key players (sophomore center Sammy Schafer and sophomore guard/forward Taylor Stewart). But getting Parker back was key. It changes everything about how Air Force plays offense and, more importantly, how opponents play defense against Air Force.

    Reason two: Look at the schedule.

    Starting Saturday, when the Falcons play a Wyoming team that is without its best player (leading scorer Afam Muojeke is out for the year with a knee injury), Air Force gets the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-place teams in the conference, all at home, in a four-game stretch. After playing Wyoming, the Falcons have a tough road trip to San Diego. But after that are winnable games at home against TCU and Colorado State.

    Air Force needs to cash in on at least one of those games. Or 0-16 becomes a real possibility for the second season in a row.

    -While the key stretch in the game was early in the second half when UNLV scored on eight of 10 possessions (with five 3s in the stretch), another important moment came just before halftime.

    Air Force was up 24-15 with 2:24 left in the first half. But UNLV closed the half on a 6-0 run. So instead of taking a substantial lead to halftime, the Falcons, for as well as they played, were up by one 3-pointer. And some of their momentum was gone.

    Asked if the Falcons need to close halves better, Parker said, “Yeah, we do.

    “And part of that was shot selection. … When they started getting going there, we came down and started taking quick shots, and we can’t do that if we want to beat athletic teams like this. We’ve got to slow down the game and be smart in our shot selection. I took some bad shots too, and I know some other guys did too, and we can’t do that if we’re going to finish a half strong.”

    -Freshman forward/center Taylor Broekhuis entered the game 0-for-15 on the season from 3-point range, and after he missed his first two 3s in the first half on Tuesday night, he passed up a wide open shot from behind the arc late in the half.

    Not only was the shot wide open, it was within the framework of the offense, and Air Force didn’t get a better shot after he passed on it.

    During the next timeout, Reynolds told Broekhuis that he had to shoot the ball in that situation, using a word that I can’t include in the blog to drive home the point.

    The message was received. Five minutes into the second half, Broekhuis took a pass from Todd Fletcher and, without hesitation, squared his shoulders and drained a 3 from the top of the key.

    “I took him out and didn’t start him in the second half because he wouldn’t shoot it,” Reynolds said. “And he’s a good shooter. And hopefully that will help his confidence.”

    -Air Force used its ninth different starting five tonight, and its fourth in six conference games: Fletcher and Evan Washington at the guard spots, Michael Lyons and Mike McLain at the forward spots and Broekhuis at center.

  • Rapid Reaction – Utah 71, Air Force 54

    Sat, January 23, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Grant Parker returned to the Air Force lineup today after missing 10 games.

    That will be helpful to the team.

    It also will be helpful to observers of the team.

    Over the next couple weeks, we’ll start getting a better idea about this Air Force basketball program and what strides – if any – it has made since last season’s debacle.

    It was difficult – and not exactly fair – to judge the Falcons when they had several opening night starters, including their leading scorer, out with injuries.

    With Parker’s return – and, granted, he’s not yet 100 percent – Air Force now is without only center Sammy Schafer and guard/forward Taylor Stewart.

    That’s not ideal, of course, and – granted – it will take a few games for the Falcons to get used to having Parker back in the rotation.

    But the silver lining of the injuries is they’ve allowed some of Air Force’s younger players to get valuable experience. So it’s reasonable to expect the Falcons to improve over the next 11 conference games.

    Other Notes

    -So far, this conference season feels a lot like last conference season. Air Force looks competitive in stretches but eventually loses big.

    The Falcons’ first five conference losses last season came by a total of 77 points. Their first five conference losses this season have come by a total of 89.

    -Utah has quite a player in freshman guard Marshall Henderson. Today he made 6-of-11 shots from the floor (including 4-of-8 3-pointers) en route to a game-high 22 points.

    More than anything, though, I was impressed by his moxie (he didn’t act like a freshman) and his court sense. He just seemed to float to the right place all the time, both on offense and defense.

    -Take away the shooting performances of Michael Lyons (4-of-5) and Evan Washington (3-of-5), and Air Force was 10-of-32 from the floor tonight.

    -A bright spot: Air Force made 17-of-21 free throws. That’s the Falcons’ third-best outing this season and their best when attempting more than 13.

  • Thursday Morning Links

    Thu, January 21, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    One could argue that the Air Force basketball program’s high-water mark was January 9, 2007.

    On that night, the Falcons overcame a 21-point deficit to defeat New Mexico, 65-57 in front of an announced record crowd of 6,511 at Clune Arena. With the victory Air Force improved to 16-1, the best record through 17 games in program history.

    Just three years and 11 days later, again facing the Lobos at Clune Arena, Air Force lost a Mountain West Conference regular season game for the 20th consecutive time. And like many of the losses, it came at a mostly empty Clune.

    Here’s my game story on the 73-50 loss and my notebook, which deals mostly with guard Evan Washington – one of the lone bright spots for the Falcons.

    Also, here’s columnist David Ramsey’s piece on MWC hoops and whether the league can shake its recent dismal history at the NCAA Tournament.

    Switching from the hardwood to the ice, hockey writer Joe Paisley previews Air Force’s weekend series with Holy Cross.

    And, finally, the official announcement about Tim DeRuyter heading to Texas A&M should come down today. Aggies linebacker Michael Hodges, who spent a year at the academy before transferring to A&M, is excited about the DeRuyter hire.

  • Saturday Morning Links

    Sat, December 5, 2009 by admin with no comments

    One link today about Air Force football, but it touches on a variety of subjects: Coach Troy Calhoun saying he hasn’t had any contact with Virginia about its head coaching opening; the Falcons returning to practice and looking rusty; and quarterbacks Tim Jefferson and Connor Dietz both participating in yesterday’s session.

    I’m heading to practice in a bit and will have an update from there. Air Force again will concentrate on just shaking off the rust and its own plays and schemes rather practicing for a specific team. The Falcons won’t know their bowl opponent until tomorrow.

    One practice schedule note: After today, the Falcons will practice on Friday (Dec. 11) in the morning and then the Tuesday following.

    Also, Air Force hockey played poorly but beat American International, 5-3, last night. And the basketball team has its first road test this evening at Missouri State. Here are my 3 Things to Watch in the game and a story about junior guard Evan Washington, who has taken on a new role this season.

    Finally, as noted in a post below, I’ve taken the plunge and started Tweeting. You can follow me at twitter.com/jakeschaller.

  • Air Force 61, North Carolina Central 49 – Rapid Reaction

    Thu, December 3, 2009 by admin with 5 comments

    Attendance for Wednesday night’s men’s basketball game at Clune Arena was listed at 1,093.

    That doesn’t include the players, the refs, the coaches and the writers at courtside. But it seemed like it.

    Mid-way through the first half, I glanced around the arena. Seven of the 28 sections in the upper level of Clune were completely empty. Four of the sections had just two people in them. Three of the sections had a lone fan.

    And it’s not like it was standing room only in the lower sections.

    So what is it?

    It wasn’t the weather – the roads were fine. It wasn’t a holiday or holiday weekend. And there wasn’t any killer, must-see football game on television.

    Is it residual damage from the debacle that was last season? Is it the next-to-nothing Q rating of the nonconference opponents? Is it the halftime entertainment? (That couldn’t be – I dug the Pikes Peak Jugglers). Is it sports apathy in Colorado Springs?

    Maybe the crowds will get bigger once conference play begins. Maybe fans will return if Air Force keeps winning. We’ll see.

    -Tough to take too much from tonight’s game considering the Eagles’ ineptitude – in the first half they made 7-of-21 shots from the floor (including just 1-of-8 3-pointers) and turned the ball over nine times.

    (I was told the Eagles were better than the 1-6 record they brought into the game. Um, no. They were worse).

    But with that said, the Falcons executed the offense as well as I’ve seen this season. Cuts were crisp and decisive and the ball movement was good. The defense was pretty good too.

    -Evan Washington dropped a career-high 19 points. His confidence seems to increase every day. More on Evan in Saturday’s paper.

    -Five freshmen got a chance to play off the bench tonight, including Michael Lyons, Todd Fletcher and Zach Bohannon, who played 17, 15 and 13 minutes, respectively. Getting the young players time should pay dividends down the road.

  • Air Force 65, Western State 54 – Rapid Reaction

    Sat, November 14, 2009 by admin with no comments

    It’s difficult to feel too good about a victory over a Division II team. Especially a squeaker over a squad that, physically at least, looked like a bunch of guys you might play pick-up with at the park.

    But there were plenty of positives for Falcon fans to take from tonight’s 65-54 victory over Western State. Among them:

    -Grant Parker’s scoring.

    In the preseason I asked the senior forward what most around the program figured was the biggest question facing the team – who would score, with the top three scorers from last season having graduated. Parker, without much hesitation, said, “Me, I hope.”

    He gave the Falcons 26 points tonight, and he eclipsed his previous career high of 16 points in the first half, when he made all five of his shots en route to 18 points.

    “Offensively I was pretty happy,” Parker said. “I was pretty disappointed with how I played defensively. I think I really need to step up there. I think I’d hit a couple shots and then I’d get lazy on the defensive end.”

    -The freshmen.

    Three played, with Michael Lyons going 28 minutes and Taylor Broekhuis 13. I wrote a bit about Lyons for tomorrow’s paper, and it’s easy to see why folks are excited about his potential. His length and athleticism remind me of the graduated Anwar Johnson. But he also has a good shooting stroke.

    Tonight he made several plays that jumped out – his slash to the hoop for a layup in the first half; his emphatic block in the second half (he didn’t get credit for it); and a rebound he grabbed after a missed Air Force free throw.

    There was, of course, his missed dunk in the game’s closing minutes, which left coach Jeff Reynolds none too pleased.

    “That’s not going to happen again,” said Lyons, who added Reynolds told him “If I’m going to dunk it, I’ve got to make it.”

    “He’s gonna be a really good player,” Reynolds said. “He’s got to learn one thing: At this level, you can’t be casual. And he was a little casual. We changed our defense down the stretch there and stopped them five straight possessions and he blew a little bit of a defensive assignment. But overall, he’s been averaging about 10 a game for us in 19 minutes in two scrimmages.”

    Lyons’ take on his performance: “I guess my effort was really good. I guess I can do better at recognizing time and situation with some of my shots, but over time that will come.”

    -Evan Washington’s play.

    The junior did a pretty good job handling the ball and made a couple key baskets down the stretch. He has a knack for being able to get into the lane, then contort his body to get off a shot.

    -The effort.

    Reynolds called it “unbelievably good” and said, “If we can play with that effort all year long, I’ll be very pleased.”

    In addition – and this goes hand in hand with the effort, I think – I just feel like this team has good chemistry. And that counts for something.

    There were, of course, plenty of reasons for concern too.

    After halftime Air Force missed 20 of 27 shots from the floor (including some bunnies from inside the paint) and 10 of 22 free throws. And that clearly isn’t going to get it done against better competition.

    “At one point I think we were shooting 17 percent, and we got good looks,” Reynolds said. “And then they got a little cautious – first game jitters. … We’ve got to make open shots, we’ve got to run our offense a little better, but the other thing we’ve got to do, we got to the free throw line 30-some times and we’ve got to make free throws. But they’ll make them.”

    Air Force also made some really careless turnovers.

    Part of that has to do with the Falcons’ youth. Reynolds talked about his first two teams being young, but this one really is young. Of the 15 players who dressed for last night’s game, seven were freshmen. And of the 10 players who got on the court, six were sophomores or freshmen (three each).