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  • Tuesday Morning Links

    Tue, March 16, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Greetings.

    Quick programming note: I’ll be writing a couple more spring football articles this week – one which will appear in tomorrow’s paper and one which will appear in Thursday’s. I’ll also take a look at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament through the lens of the four Mountain West Conference teams participating.

    Onto the links:

    Gazette columnist David Ramsey wrote for today’s paper that Air Force needs a new hoops coach. But that because the Falcons can’t (won’t) go out and get one, maybe Jeff Reynolds can change into that new coach.

    Also, Brian Gomez previews Air Force ice hockey’s Atlantic Hockey Association semifinal matchup with Sacred Heart. The Falcons will be short-handed for the contest.

    Finally, Frank Scwab wrote about women’s tennis player Tahlia Smoke.

  • New Mexico 75, Air Force 69 – Rapid Reaction

    Thu, March 11, 2010 by admin with 4 comments

    Too bad there aren’t a few more weeks left in the season.

    Because it would be interesting to see if Air Force could keep performing like it did the last two days, when it played arguably its two best games of the 2009-10 campaign.

    This afternoon, they pushed the No. 8 team in the country throughout a physical, intense, emotional and often contentious game. This Falcons team was not the same team that we all watched most of the 2009-10 season.

    “I think towards the end of the season we started to click,” junior forward Tom Fow said. “We started to get things, have that passion, have that personal pride, you know, that we weren’t going to lay down for anybody.”

    Not surprisingly, the Falcons shot the ball extremely well this afternoon. In part because they attacked the rim and got some back-door layins, they went 27-of-50 from the field.

    Don’t want to say shooting is everything with this team, but consider this: Air Force’s four best shooting performances against conference foes are below. Those four coincide with Air Force’s only two victories against league foes this season and their two other top performances this season (both against New Mexico).

    Date – Opponent – Percentage
    Today – New Mexico – 54.0
    2/20 – New Mexico – 51.2
    Wed. – Wyoming – 47.9
    1/30 – Wyoming – 45.1

    That says a lot.

    But perhaps even more important than the shooting the last two days was the passion, emotion and energy with which the Falcons played. As I wrote yesterday, even the bench was into it.

    Again, I wonder where that energy was the rest of the season. And I wish the Falcons had a few more weeks to play with it.

    Other Notes:
    -I Tweeted this before the game: That was like a road game for Air Force. A ton of Lobo fans in the crowd at the Thomas & Mack.

    “New Mexico, they brought The Pit with them to the conference tournament,” Fow said.

    Air Force got a lift from the fans of other teams who were in attendance (they clearly wanted to see the upset). But the Lobos had the majority of the voices at Thomas & Mack.

    -I’ve wondered about some of Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds’ substitution patterns throughout the season. But I’ve got to say that he did an excellent job with juggling the lineup on Thursday. With a team that had just finished a game 21 hours earlier, Reynolds got good rest for his key players and found good combinations with his reserves. That was a key reason his team was in the game.

    -New Mexico junior guard Darington Hobson is a tremendous talent, and I voted for him as the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. He was, without question, the best player in the league this year. And I think his versatile game and long, athletic body could make him a very good pro.

    So he’s too good a player for that preening, trash-talking, chest-pounding, punkish act he often displays during games.

    (Quick side note: Tomorrow is my birthday, and I already feel like old man. When I write sentences like the one before the parentheses, I feel like even more of an old grouch. Oh well.)

    Anyhow, if I was a New Mexico fan, I’d love his emotion. But I’d be concerned about how A) he got a technical foul for pounding his chest and celebrating after a bucket in the second half; B) how he seemed to get into it with Reynolds heading into a timeout (Reynolds and Hobson talked after the game and shared a hug); and C) how he got in the face of teammate Chad Adams late in the first half. Hobson came up with a steal and drove the court. He eventually got to the hoop and was called for a charge. He then yelled at Adams as if the foul was all Adams’ fault for not filling a lane.

    To Hobson’s credit, he gave a thoughtful response when he was asked if he can grow his passion “without encountering the negative side of that.” And he took responsibility for the tech.

    “Yeah, that’s one of the things I’ve been working on, trying to work on down the stretch,” Hobson said. “You know, it cost us two points during the game. I apologize for that. But you know, that’s just something I still have to work on. I’m an emotional player, and I show a lot of emotion when I play.”

    -One last thing:

    I wrote for tomorrow’s paper about the outstanding play of Air Force freshmen Michael Lyons and Todd Fletcher. Those two – and the rest of the freshmen on Air Force’s team – won’t be able to kick their feet up and get some rest now that the season’s over.

    Air Force was set to jump on a plane tonight and head back to the academy so the players could participate in “Recognition,” which essentially is a rite of passage for the freshmen.

    It starts today and includes physical training, room and uniform inspections, quizzes about academy and military heritage – you name it. Think rushing a fraternity without the booze and embarrassing hazing techniques. (“It’d probably be enough to scare you and your friends,” Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, the academy’s superintendent, told me after today’s game).

    It runs through Saturday night when the freshmen are awarded the Prop and Wings insignia. That signifies the fourth classmen are officially part of the Cadet Wing.

    Heading back to the academy after a heartbreaking loss would be tough enough. Having to join in this difficult process probably makes it much tougher.

    Best of luck to the frosh.

  • Air Force 59, Wyoming 40 – Rapid Reaction

    Wed, March 10, 2010 by admin with no comments

    So where was this team all season?

    The Falcons played with energy and emotion and – gasp – actually seemed to be having fun out there today.

    You could tell by the body language of the players that they were not going to lose this game. Even the guys on the bench – they were on their feet and cheering and celebrating. It was nice to see.

    An obvious reason the Falcons won was they actually hit some shots – something they did rarely in Mountain West Conference regular season play.

    But a bigger reason was defense. Air Force players were flying out to the perimeter to contest Wyoming’s 3-point shots. They were attacking passing lanes and going after errant passes. They were sliding their feet and making it tough for the Cowboys to get into the lane.

    In short, they were just playing nasty defense. The kind of defense Air Force used to play on a night-in, night-out basis.

    “We were really well prepared,” senior forward/center Grant Parker said. “We knew what they were going to do pretty much every single play. We knew their options and what they could possibly run. … I thought energy was a big thing tonight.”

    I asked Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds if his team had its best defensive performance of the season against the Cowboys.

    “I think there were stretches that we were very solid,” he said. “You know, (Wyoming freshman guard) Desmar (Jackson) is so good at getting into the lane. I thought (Air Force senior guard) Avery Merriex came off the bench and did an outstanding job of forcing him to go side to side versus to the basket. I thought Mike McLain did a really good job, as well as Grant.”

    Other Notes:
    -The Cowboys had a lot to do with their demise.

    Playing without starting point guard JayDee Luster, the Cowboys made 13 turnovers and hit just 2-of-16 3-pointers and just 8-of-19 shots from the foul line. Ouch.

    On Wyoming’s second possession of the second half, Desmar Jackson tossed a pass to Ryan Dermody on the right wing. Dermody reached for it with one hand, but it slipped off the hand and out of bounds. It just wasn’t the Cowboys’ day.

    -Speaking of Jackson, he is a talented kid. Especially as a scorer. So smooth and deceptively quick. He just has a knack for getting through traffic, contorting his body and finding a way to force in shots. He’ll be fun to watch in the coming seasons.

    -Play of the day, by far: Freshman guard Todd Fletcher’s drive to the hoop with about 3:26 to play. Wyoming was pressing, but the Falcons beat it, and Fletcher got the ball and took it across halfcourt. Instead of pulling it out and running clock, however, Fletcher saw a lane and exploited it. He went all the way to the rim and scored as he was fouled. He then hit the ensuing free throw to complete a 3-point play that finished off the Cowboys.

    “I made my diagonal cut. I just hear Evan in the background saying, ‘Go, go, attack,’” Fletcher said. “Their big guy was backing up. I had to make a layup. I went in, got hit. Coach says always keep your eyes on the rim and I did and it went in.”

    -I mentioned this in my notebook that will appear in tomorrow’s paper, but I wanted to send give props here on the blog. How ‘bout Ryan Gonzales – senior offensive tackle on the Air Force football team – winning the fan shootout during a break in the action in the first half?

    Gonzales hit a free throw, a 3-pointer and a halfcourt shot to win the competition. And he needed just two tries on the free throw and 3 and four on the halfcourt shot.

    There apparently are some ballers on the football team, including free safety Jon Davis (who played some for the prep school hoops team a few years ago), receiver Kevin Fogler, quarterback Tim Jefferson, receiver Kyle Halderman, outside linebackers Patrick Hennessey and Andre Morris Jr. and some others.

    -Quick, quick, quick turnaround for Air Force. The Falcons will have about 21 hours from the end of their game against Wyoming to tip-off of tomorrow’s game against New Mexico. Until then.

  • More from Mueh

    Wed, March 10, 2010 by admin with 4 comments

    Here are some more excerpts from the conversation I had Tuesday with Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh about the men’s basketball program. As I wrote in this article, Mueh gave coach Jeff Reynolds an endorsement.

    On whether he expects things to get better next year: “I do. I do. … I never gave up on this team. I really believe the New Mexico game (Air Force lost at The Pit, 59-56, on Feb. 20) showed the potential that this team had. We were reasonably healthy at that point. We didn’t have Sammy (Schafer) back, but everybody played, I think, to their capacity, and we played the No. 10, roughly, team in the nation to almost a draw. That was very encouraging. And I talked to the team the other day, and I said, you know, I really believed watching that game that that was a statement by you guys to say, ‘Hey world, look at us, we can play this game. And we’ll show you.’ … I think we’ve got some great kids coming up from the prep school. I watched the prep school play our JV and essentially dismantle our JV – very crisp, solid, solid ball-handlers, good shooters, and they’re coming up to join this squad.”

    On Schafer, who has been out since the third game of the season with post-concussion symptoms: “I don’t know about Sammy. Sammy worries me because he’s such a great, great young man. And I don’t actually care about the basketball, I worry about Sammy. Because he still wants to be President of the United States, and he needs to graduate from the Air Force Academy to be President of the United States, in his mind and in my mind.” [I asked if he worried if Sammy would ever be able to play again] “I worry that we can’t graduate him because of the medical situation. I’m praying that somebody finds out what’s wrong with him.”

    On Grant Parker’s pelvic injury: “If we have Grant playing the way he was playing (early) for the whole season, instead of losing 10 games – and it wasn’t 10 games, it was from that point on in the season, because he’s not 100 percent. He tries really hard, but it’s not there. The steps that he had early on. Even the planting to hit the shots is not back. And he was a huge, huge key to this season. He was a leader on this team. We needed that kind of leadership from a big man. This is his senior year, he had it going and then he gets this mystery injury. And you just shake your head going what else?”

    On if he remains confident in Reynolds: “I do. Because I don’t think he’s had a fair chance to show his coaching ability. The first year, everybody praised him, including me. When we lost those great, great players (from the 2006-07 team) and we had Timmy Anderson and some other guys, but Timmy Anderson was special – Defensive Player of the Year in the conference and he was at a position where he could direct traffic. That was a very, very important position to have. If Timmy Anderson had been a forward, I don’t think we would have had that kind of success. But because he was where he was and could take true control of that team, we went 16-14, and it was phenomenal. To do what we did that season – 8-8 in the conference. I thought, wow. And then the wheels sort of came off. Jeff’s second season, last year. … It was one of those years that it didn’t mesh. It just didn’t mesh. And then this year with the injuries, I really believe had an impact. Because I really thought we would win half a dozen games in the conference this year. And I think, in hindsight, if we had had the team we started with when we were 5-2 and growing, I think maybe that was possible.”

    On Reynolds: “Jeff is a very good basketball coach, and he and I have talked too. He aches, I ache with him. I think his assistants are phenomenal people. He has hand-picked a bunch of really good people. And I go down to practice, I watch. I told Jeff he ought to pat them on the butt a little more than he does, but, you know, that’s coaching – that sort of style. It’s harder and harder when you’re not winning. But I think that will get better. It’s amazing what wins will do for you. Winning is so far better than losing it’s unbelievable. It solves everything.”

    On whether he’ll set benchmarks for victories in 2010-11 or if he’ll just have a feel for if the team is improving: “I wouldn’t want to set, ‘OK, Jeff, I expect you to win six or seven games.’ But I think you’re right – we will know when we’re in games. When we lose by an average of 17, 18 points a game, then we’re not there. If we’re losing by a couple and then maybe we pick off a couple, everybody will know, I think, that we’re in these games. And maybe we’ve added a little quickness, maybe we’ve added a little ball skill, maybe we’ve added a little shooting.”

    On winning: “I’d love to win more. I ache for these kids every time out because they play so hard and they play so hard in practice and the coaches get frustrated and the players get frustrated. But I’m an eternal optimist, and I really believe we can play. We’ve proven that. … I went back to look at the league. The league RPIs when we were at the top, and we didn’t have as many good teams in the league back when we were winning. When we won the (MWC) title, I think there were two good teams in the league. So things have changed a little bit.”

  • Wednesday Morning Links

    Wed, March 10, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Greetings from Las Vegas.

    The Air Force women’s basketball team lost in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament here yesterday, falling to Utah, 63-40.

    The men face Wyoming today in the play-in game of the men’s tournament. Here are 3 Things to Watch in the game. It could be the last for senior forward/center Grant Parker, who wants to go out with a better performance than he had in the Falcons’ final two regular season games.

    Also, I spoke to Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh after yesterday’s women’s game about the men’s program and coach Jeff Reynolds. Mueh endorsed Reynolds. I’ll post some more excerpts from our conversation later today in the blog. Gazette columnist David Ramsey writes in his blog (http://daveramseysez.freedomblogging.com) that giving Reynolds a new contract after last season made no sense.

  • Mueh Endorses Reynolds

    Tue, March 9, 2010 by admin with 5 comments

    I spoke with Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh here in Las Vegas this afternoon after the women’s basketball team lost in the first round of the Mountain West Conference tournament to Utah, 63-40.

    We chatted about the men’s basketball program (for a story I’ll be doing later this week) and coach Jeff Reynolds. Mueh endorsed Reynolds and said he wants the coach back next year.

    I’ll have more from our conversation tomorrow morning in the blog.

  • San Diego State 61, Air Force 42 – Rapid Reaction

    Sun, March 7, 2010 by admin with 5 comments

    Air Force set a season low for points in a half tonight with 14 in the first 20 minutes.

    The Falcons also set a new low for points in a game this season with 42.

    So I guess you could say that the Falcons saved their worst for last.

    But, unfortunately, a 19-point home loss on senior night isn’t even close to the worst that’s happened this season.

    The good news, of course, is that there’s still the Mountain West Conference tournament. Air Force got a feel-good victory in the play-in game of last year’s tournament, and maybe it can do the same this year.

    There’s no reason to get too in depth with this game because it was much like many of the 14 other losses in league play – poor shooting (18-of-46), especially from 3-point range (4-of-18); prolonged scoring droughts; a significant deficit on the glass (San Diego State out-rebounded Air Force, 30-21).

    And since it’s senior night, there’s no reason to go through all the dismal numbers of the last two seasons. So I’ll say this instead:

    Air Force’s seniors have shown a lot of class in what has been a tough situation. They started their careers in a season when the Falcons reached dizzying heights (No. 11 in the coaches’ Top 25). And they’re finishing it with a second consecutive last-place finish in the league. But, like I said, they’ve handled it with class.

    “It’s the fifth-winningest class in the history of Air Force basketball,” coach Jeff Reynolds said. “They’ve had some struggles here of late, but they’ve battled, they’ve played extremely hard, they’ve been very coachable. They’re outstanding young men, and they’ll be great officers in the Air Force.”

  • Tuesday Morning Links

    Wed, March 3, 2010 by admin with 2 comments

    Air Force clinched a second consecutive last-place finish in the Mountain West Conference last night by losing to the only team it had a chance to catch – Wyoming.

    The Falcons fell, 58-49. Junior Tom Fow scored 17 points, showing off a more diverse offensive game. But coach Jeff Reynolds said after the game that Fow still has much work to do on his defense.

    “Gave up too many easy shots,” Reynolds said.

    Here’s The Casper Star-Tribune’s game story and Robert Gagliardi’s column for The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. Both mention how the MWC’s worst 3-point shooting and worst defensive squad hit nine 3s and played good defense against the Falcons.

    In other news, the MWC reprimanded New Mexico coach Steve Alford for calling BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari a seven-letter word that I can’t write here (watch a clip of it here, but be warned that the word appears in the clip). Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney writes that while Alford “is a lot of attitude, some productive, some annoying,” he also has done a great job with the Lobos this season. I enjoyed the piece.

  • Wyoming 58, Air Force 49 – Rapid Reaction

    Wed, March 3, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    When Grant Parker was a freshman, Air Force won 26 games and reached the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. The Falcons, for a time, were ranked No. 11 in the coaches’ Top 25.

    Now, just three years later, Air Force will finish in the Mountain West Conference cellar for the second season in a row.

    Could anyone have imagined such a drastic fall from grace? Parker certainly couldn’t have.

    “No,” he said. “You don’t really picture that happening. But at the same time, stuff happens and you’ve just got to try to move on and look to the (Mountain West Conference) tournament, I guess. It’s really tough because we’ve played really well at times this season, but collectively, overall, we haven’t really played as well as we would have liked.”

    Air Force ended last season with a smidge of a positive feeling, staying close in games at UNLV and BYU and then beating Colorado State in the MWC Tournament play-in game before finishing the season with a noble loss to the Cougars in the tournament quarterfinals.

    The Falcons will need a major turnaround in Saturday’s regular season finale and the MWC Tournament to take any positive feeling into this offseason. Because right now, the Falcons don’t seem to be getting any better.

    Other Notes:
    -Air Force pulled to within one point of Wyoming – 48-47 – after Tom Fow hit a jumper and then Evan Washington hit a 3-pointer with 2:40 to play.

    But things unraveled after that.

    So I asked Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds after the game how disappointed he was that his team didn’t execute so well on the possessions after Washington’s 3.

    “Well, what do you call, ‘not executing?’” he asked.

    Here were Air Force’s three possessions after Washington’s 3-pointer: Forced, air-balled 3-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire. Turnover. Turnover. I’d call that not executing.

    “We missed two layups, too,” Reynolds said.

    I told him I was talking about the three possessions following Washington’s 3.

    “Well, we wouldn’t have been in that situation if we’d made those shots prior,” Reynolds said. “And that’s frustrating.”

    -Air Force out-rebounded the Cowboys, 28-25. It was the first time in conference play the Falcons out-rebounded an opponent.

    -Freshman Michael Lyons continues to struggle from 3-point range. He missed all four of his attempts from beyond the 3-point arc and is now 1-for-16 from 3 in his last four games. Lyons also had five turnovers in 36 minutes tonight.

    -Shawn Hempsey started six games last season and played in 12 others. But he has barely sniffed the floor lately. He logged his sixth DNP-Coach’s Decision in MWC play on Tuesday night.

  • Monday Morning Links

    Mon, March 1, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    March begins today, and the Air Force football team already has held six “spring” practices.

    To date, sophomore quarterback Tim Jefferson has been unable to participate in spring drills because he is recovering from surgery on his right knee. So the Falcons won’t settle on a starter until August.

    Gazette columnist David Ramsey, however, writes in his blog (http://daveramseysez.freedomblogging.com) that Jefferson, who started 10 of 13 games last season and was the 2008 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, deserves a vote of confidence from Air Force coach Troy Calhoun.

    With Jeffersoun out, sophomore Connor Dietz, who started three games last season, is taking snaps with the Falcons’ starters. Dietz has made huge strides since last year’s spring drills, when he was a new face on the Falcons’ varsity.

    “No doubt,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “There’s clearly a difference compared to what he was 11 or 12 months ago. Plus, I think you practice differently after you’ve had some game experience, just because you realize how much more relevant every drill and everything you do fundamentally and skill-wise is. And that’s where experience is huge for guys. You’re asking about the quarterbacks right now, but I think even a guy like (freshman running back) Cody Getz, catching one swing pass in the bowl game. All of a sudden he realizes all those swing passes you catch in practice, the catch and pitches, you realize it’s necessary.”

    Already a strong runner, Dietz is working hard on his passing this spring, specifically his dropbacks and reads.

    “It’s better,” Calhoun said of Dietz’s passing. “Just on a very regular basis, seeing a little more velocity with the ball coming off of his hand.”

    Switching to hoops, Air Force will travel to Wyoming today where tomorrow it will face the Cowboys – the only MWC team it has beaten. Ramsey recently blogged about his top 20 basketball players of all-time and asked Falcons coach Jeff Reynolds for his No. 2 (MJ is No. 1 of course). Reynolds gave his response via e-mail, and Ramsey has it in his blog, just scroll beneath the Jefferson post.