• Saturday Morning Links

    Sat, March 13, 2010 by admin with 5 comments

    Greetings from Washington, DC.

    I didn’t get a links post up yesterday because of internet troubles/traveling. So here’s my story on the Air Force men’s basketball team’s 75-69 loss to New Mexico on Thursday in the Mountain West Conference Tournament quarterfinals. The Falcons played well – especially a pair of freshmen guards, Michael Lyons and Todd Fletcher. Both really came of age in the MWC Tournament.

    I wrote for today’s edition of The Gazette about the momentum and positive feelings the Air Force men’s basketball team should carry into the offseason. And, how, unfortunately, the Falcons carried a bunch of momentum and optimism into last season’s offseason (and, obviously, didn’t carry it through to 2009-10).

    But could things be different next year? I explore.

    One thing I didn’t fit in the article was an interesting comment from junior guard Evan Washington. He was asked what Air Force had to do to return to the winning ways of 2003-07.

    “You know, I think it’s just gonna be a mindset,” Washington said. “When I was a freshman, when I was at the prep school, you know, everybody here had a mindset that you don’t lose, especially at home,” he said. “That’s going to be something that we have to get back. We started to develop towards the end of the year. When times got tough, we would persevere through it. We wanted to win. We had the mindset we were in the game to win, not to lose. I think we’re just going to have to get that back for the future.”

    Switching to the ice, Air Force defeated Army, 3-0, at Cadet Ice Arena last night in the first game of their best-of-three Atlantic hockey Association quarterfinal series. As Brian Gomez points out in the linked article, the Falcons know how to win in the postseason. That and a hot goalie (Andrew Volkening) could make for another run deep into the postseason.

  • 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.

  • Colorado State 51, Air Force 47 – Rapid Reaction

    Wed, February 10, 2010 by admin with 7 comments

    “Tonight we learned how to find a way to win.”
    -Colorado State coach Tim Miles

    “The difference in the game was we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket the second half. We had open shots.”
    -Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds

    Those were brief excerpts from tonight’s post-game interviews. And I think – in tandem – they help explain tonight’s result.

    We’ll start with Reynolds’ quote. Yes, Air Force couldn’t put the ball in the basket in the second half. After making 10-of-23 shots (43.5 percent) from the floor before halftime, the Falcons made just 4-of-22 shots (18.2 percent) after halftime.

    But part of that, I think, has to do with the fact that Air Force has not yet – to use Miles’ quote – learned how to find a way to win. If they knew how to find a way to win, maybe they knock down one of the open looks they had down the stretch. Maybe they get to the free throw line one more time. Maybe they avoid a careless turnover. Maybe they get one extra stop.

    The Falcons have dropped 26 of 28 games against MWC foes the last two seasons (including the tournament). And during that time they’ve found numerous ways to lose. But they haven’t learned how to win.

    And, unfortunately, there’s no crash course, no Cliff’s Notes for this. There’s no way to learn how to win except by winning.

    Other notes/thoughts:
    -It was really brutal to watch Air Force unravel.

    Seems like most times a team comes from behind to win a game, it makes a decisive run. Colorado State, however, just chipped away and chipped away as the Falcons became unable to score.

    -A quick note on the Falcons’ last possession with a chance to tie:

    Down 50-47, Air Force forces a missed shot by Colorado State (and a subsequent 35-second violation) and then calls timeout with 27.3 seconds left.

    Reynolds said he wanted to try to get a quick 2-point bucket. But that’s not what happened. The Falcons moved the ball around the perimeter and eventually settled for a contested 3-point shot by Evan Washington that missed.

    “Three freshmen, I think, were on the floor that last play, and we really wanted to drive the ball there because we had [27] seconds,” Reynolds said. “We knew they wouldn’t foul us, and we went a little brain dead.”

    -A potential rivalry in the making: Air Force’s Todd Fletcher vs. Colorado State’s Dorian Green.

    Both freshman point guards already are running their respective teams. Both have plenty of upside and moxie. And both should be playing in the MWC for the next three years. It will be fun to watch them go head-to-head the next few seasons.

    -Reynolds praised freshmen Michael Lyons (seven points and four rebounds but four turnovers) and Taylor Broekhuis (seven points, three rebounds), who played 28 and 23 minutes, respectively, though “they’ve been really sick.”

    -Kudos also to senior forward/center Grant Parker, who scored a game-high 13 points despite playing with a sore left shoulder. Parker’s left arm popped out of and back into its socket during Monday’s practice.

    -Washington matched a career-high with eight rebounds but missed 10-of-13 shots from the floor, including all four of his 3-point attempts.

  • Tuesday Morning Links

    Tue, February 2, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Tonight, the Air Force men’s basketball team will face another athletic squad that will try to push the tempo and force turnovers when it faces San Diego State. That means the performance of freshman guard Todd Fletcher will be key. Fletcher, as I wrote in today’s edition of The Gazette, has emerged the Falcons’ primary lead guard in recent weeks. Also, my 3 Things to Watch in tonight’s game didn’t make it on-line, but I’ve posted them below.

    Also, a quick programming note – I’ll have an article about Air Force’s football recruiting class, along with a list of recruits I’ve confirmed have committed to the academy, on-line by tonight and in Wednesday’s paper. Also on-line will be a more in-depth look at some of the Falcons’ recruits.

    AIR FORCE at SAN DIEGO STATE – 3 THINGS TO WATCH

    1. AIR FORCE’S ENERGY LEVEL
    The Falcons will play their third road game in 11 days on Tuesday night. Included in that stretch was a difficult trip home from Las Vegas last week – a problem with the Falcons’ military charter forced them to fly commercial to Denver, and then their bus from Denver broke down. So instead of getting back to the academy at about 1 p.m., the Falcons arrived nearly nine hours later. “The guys are worn out,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said.

    2. THE AZTECS’ HOME COURT ADVANTAGE
    San Diego State has won 24 of its last 26 games at home, including nine of 10 this year (the lone loss was to No. 12 BYU, 71-69). Air Force, meanwhile, has not won a true road game since Dec. 6, 2008. The Falcons have lost four straight at Viejas Arena (formerly known as Cox Arena), all by double-digit margins, including a 65-34 drubbing last season.

    3. REBOUNDING
    Air Force, which has been out-rebounded in each of its last nine games, will have a difficult task trying to keep the Aztecs off the glass. San Diego State ranks 12th in the nation in rebounding margin at plus-7.7 per game.

    Quote to Note: “They do really good job of guarding the ball, and they’re really long. How we handle that is going to be a big key to the game.” –Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds.

    Note to Quote: Nine Falcons logged minutes in Air Force’s victory over Wyoming. Four freshmen (Michael Lyons, Todd Fletcher, Mike Fitzgerald and Taylor Broekhuis) combined for 92 minutes, one sophomore (Shawn Hempsey) played three, two juniors (Evan Washington and Tom Fow) combined for 64 and two seniors (Grant Parker and Mike McLain) combined for 41.

  • 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.

    Notes:
    -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.

  • Northern Arizona 60, Air Force 52 – Rapid Reaction

    Sun, December 20, 2009 by admin with no comments

    Last week Air Force played perhaps its best game of the season in routing Prairie View A&M, 75-41. The Falcons then stayed close with Washington State of the Pac-10, playing admirably before falling, 75-68.

    Two steps forward.

    Tonight Air Force lost to Northern Arizona.

    One step back. Way back.

    The Lumberjacks had lost four of five heading into tonight’s game, including blowout losses to San Diego State and New Mexico of the Mountain West Conference by 41 and 39 points, respectively.

    Yes, the Falcons missed leading scorer Grant Parker and his 17.1 points per game. And, yes, they missed starting center Sammy Schafer.

    But Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds, to his credit, said after the game that while those players would have helped the Falcons he didn’t think their absence was why his team lost.

    “We’re not the only team in the country that has injuries,” Reynolds said. “So we’ve got to find a way to battle through it.”

    Air Force played well in the first half, building a 27-23 advantage at the break. But the Falcons were dreadful in the second half. They scored on just one of their first 11 possessions, and through 15-plus minutes they had scored just nine points.

    For they game they went 3-for-13 from 3-point range (including 0-for-7 in the second half) and 11-of-21 from the free throw line.

    That can’t happen. Just like the Air Force football team has to be able to run the ball and limit turnovers, the basketball team has to make 3-pointers and free throws.

    Other Thoughts:
    -On the bright side, freshman guard Todd Fletcher had another good game for the Falcons.

    Fletcher, who scored a career-high 13 points in a career-high 29 minutes a week ago against Washington State, had 11 points in 27 minutes tonight.

    He seems to have a good feel for the game – Reynolds said he had “a good floor game,” tonight. And it showed on defense. Twice in the first half Fletcher broke into a passing lane to swipe the ball and start a fast break.

    -Freshmen typically are up and down. That would describe Michael Lyons’ last two games. He had a career-high 25 last week against Washington State on 10-of-15 shooting. Tonight he went 2-of-10 from the floor and finished with four points.