A couple of hours before Air Force’s game at Wyoming on Wednesday, I told a Wyoming radio station that the Falcons could be very good when they were making shots.
It sounded like an incredibly obvious point – like saying you need to score more than the opponent to win. And one of the hosts of the program called me on it. He said making shots was important to the success of every team.
And he’s right.
But it’s especially important for Air Force.
The Falcons don’t have a 7-footer to whom they can dump the ball and hope for easy post-up buckets. They don’t run much, so they get few baskets in transition. And they don’t have very many players who can create a shot or get to the rim and finish with regularity.
So, more than most teams, Air Force must make shots – outside shots, specifically – to be successful.
Check this out:
In two conference victories …
v. UNLV: 61.8 FG%; 47.4 3-P%
v. Wyoming: 44.0 FG%; 48.1 3-P%
In two conference losses …
v. Utah: 31.4 FG%; 31.6 3-P%
v. New Mexico: 27.5 FG%; 26.1 3-P%
-One of my questions for coach Jeff Reynolds after Saturday's loss was why he stuck with his regulars until the final horn.
The last 10 or so minutes – with New Mexico comfortably ahead – seemed like the perfect time to get some of the younger players on the floor in a road conference game. Especially considering Reynolds often talks about the need to find another reserve or two who can contribute. And because one of the few criticisms of the coaching of his predecessor, Jeff Bzdelik, was that Bzdelik often left starters in games too long. That could have contributed, critics said, to the late-season collapse last year. And it left many of the players who had to step into major roles this year woefully inexperienced.
When I asked Reynolds about it after the game, he had a very reasonable explanation. He said that while, yes, he had considered emptying his bench, he decided to use the final minutes of the game as a teaching experience. He called two timeouts late – including one with less than a minute to play that elicited boos from the crowd at The Pit – so he could point out what Air Force would do at those times if the game was closer. This is who we would foul, this is when we would foul, this is the play we would run, etc.
“I just felt like we wanted to try to learn even though we were losing,” he said. “I didn’t think our kids gave in. I thought with three minutes to go in the game, I thought we got our legs. We were running our offense harder. And maybe that was the fact that they weren’t playing as hard. I think that’s just the way it went.”
Again, an understandable explanation. And I admire the never-say-die, never-quit attitude that is displayed by fighting hard until the final horn
But if the Falcons happen to lose Tuesday to Colorado State, I don’t want to hear about how it was their third game in seven days. I don’t want to hear about a long road trip. I don’t want to hear about tired legs and fatigue.
There was an opportunity to give some guys who have been playing hefty minutes a chance to rest Saturday – let alone give seldom-used reserves a chance to play. Starter Anwar Johnson, who still is recovering from a bout with pneumonia (they had an oxygen tank on the bench for him at Wyoming), played 36 of 40 minutes Saturday – a team-high.
Now, it might turn out that the lessons learned by the regulars in the waning minutes of the game will pay dividends down the line. Maybe they learned something about the offense, the defense or themselves that will make a big difference Tuesday or later in the season.
But the fatigue excuse is off the table for Tuesday night.
-Through two weeks of conference play, two things stand out.
One: As written earlier this week, the league is wide open. And the eventual champ could have three, four – perhaps five – losses.
Two: Last year’s Air Force team would have dominated this league. Funny how entire leagues go in cycles. Lot of talent gone from last year.
-New Mexico’s J.R. Giddens may or may not make it at the next level. But there’s no doubting he has the tools. The spin move he made to get to the basket in the first half Saturday was stunning.