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Mountain West Notebook

January 12, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

Soaring Falcons

It’s not often I get a chance to lead with good news on Air Force‘s basketball team, but they deserve some publicity for their early season success. At 9-2, the Falcons are off to their best start in school history. In addition, their seven game winning streak is the longest since 1972-73 season. With half of their games on the road so far this season, this team has proven that it can compete even in hostile environments, something that will be necessary now that conference play has begun.

Brimming with confidence, the high-flying Falcons disposed of two lesser opponents this past week. First, hapless Savannah State (1-14) visited Colorado Springs to receive a nasty 72-35 pasting. Guard Antoine Hood hit 7 of 8 shots to lead the Academy with 16 points. The nation’s top ranked defense held the Tigers to just 25% shooting, 19 turnovers, and a season low 35 points.

A few nights later, Air Force continued its hot streak by pounding Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW) 64-44. Once again, the hot-shooting Falcons broke out to an early lead that they never relinquished. IPFW cut the lead to 11 points, but a 14 minute dry spell finished them off. Tim Keller led a balanced attack with 11 points. Conference play starts Monday when Air Force plays at Colorado State.

Momentum Lost

After splitting their first 8 games, Colorado State finally straightened things out by winning four in a row, including a big win against #24 Purdue. The Rams clearly had some good momentum going into conference play, with only a trip to Bozeman against Montana State standing in their way. Unfortunately, the game last Monday night may have more of an affect on the rest of the season for the Rams than they had anticipated.

Just before halftime of a sloppy, poor shooting game, Colorado State center Matt Nelson went down with a sprained right knee and was forced to leave the game. The seven-foot junior, who has just recently started to play well, has had a history of injury problems that have stunted his development. This latest hinderance will keep him sidelined for an indefinite period of time and force the Rams to adjust without their top player.

As for the second half, both teams heated up, especially MSU’s Jason Erickson who poured in a game high 30 points. CSU’s Ronnie Clark kept the Rams close by scoring a career-high 27 points, but didn’t get much help from his teammates as Montana State pulled out a 82-75 upset. It wasn’t the way Coach Dale Layer wanted his Rams to finish the non-conference schedule.

The Rest of the Results

BYU traveled to Raleigh to battle North Carolina State in a good final test before conference play begins. Unfortunately, the Cougars failed that test as they played their worst game of the season. Coach Steve Cleveland could not have been happy with the play of his team’s defense, as they gave up a season high 89 points in the 89-62 loss. The Cougars couldn’t stop the athleticism of the Wolfpack’s Julius Hodge, who scored a game high 23 points. Seniors Rafael Araujo and Mark Bigelow combined for 39 points, but received little help from their teammates.

Utah played a pair of games at home this week. On Tuesday, a tough Pepperdine club came into Salt Lake City and gave the Utes quite a scare in a 76-69 victory. Sophomore Richard Cheney, who is quickly becoming the team’s first scoring option, scored a career high 27 points. The next night, Utah had no such problems with Division III Whitworth, winning 71-49.

UNLV also squared off against Division III competition by hosting Occidental for their only game of the week. Romel Beck led the Rebels with a career high 26 points in their 78-63 victory. The Rebs kept the Tigers in it by shooting a horrible 3-21 from three point land. UNLV will have to perform much better if they want to beat Utah on Big Monday.

New Mexico continued to play well by taking two games this week against San Diego (88-75) and Cornell (74-65). Newcomer Danny Granger continues to dominate since becoming eligible last month by scoring a combined 40 points, along with 26 rebounds in the two wins.

Two teams that struggled this past week were San Diego State and Wyoming. The Aztecs traveled to Moraga, CA to face Saint Mary’s of the West Coast Conference in their only contest of the week. SDSU’s talented backcourt struggled most of the game, while the Gaels hit 20 of 23 free throw attempts in the second half to seal the 80-66 win.

Meanwhile, Wyoming continued to struggle on the road as they dropped two games this past week to Denver (63-62) and Middle Tennessee State (76-63). The Cowboys had halftime leads in both games, only to fade away in the second half. They looked especially lethargic in the loss to a stubborn Denver squad, who earlier in the season disposed of Colorado State.


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