We now rejoin a basketball season already in progress – with progress being the operative word.
Air Force boarded a plane Tuesday bound for Utah State to pick up a season that was gaining momentum before the government shutdown wiped out Saturday’s game against Fresno State.
“Not having the opportunity to play takes a little wind out of your sail,” coach Dave Pilipovich said. “You’re in that pattern of playing two games, prepping and playing. But you’ve got to adjust.”
When we last saw it, Air Force was snapping a 12-game, seven-year drought with a win over Colorado State on Jan. 17. In the game before that, the Falcons ended a three-year skid in Mountain West road games by topping San Jose State.
Now comes the opportunity to win for the first time in 10 tries at Utah State’s Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and win three conference road games in a row for the first time since 2005-06.
“We’ve been playing well on the road the last few games,” said senior guard Jacob Van, who scored a combined 29 points in the past two games. “So we’re excited to get back out there.”
The Falcons had lost seven straight to Division I opponents before their past two games. The change has been spurred along by the rapid development of the sophomore tandem of Lavelle Scottie (14.7 points per game in conference games) and Ryan Swan (13.7 ppg in the MW).
If Air Force (8-10, 2-4) can pick up where it left off and beat the Aggies (10-11, 3-5), then suddenly the rest of the season could look particularly promising.
Assuming the Fresno State game is rescheduled and is still played at Clune Arena, then seven of Air Force’s final 11 games would be played at home. Considering the Falcons are just two games out of third place, much could be within their reach in a season that once looked bleak.
But that’s getting ahead of things, considering Utah State is favored by nine points and has some of the best crowd support in the Mountain West.
“It’ll be interesting to see how we respond out there because they sit right on top of you and they’re very vocal and loud,” Pilipovich said. “It’s a good home-court advantage. It’s a good atmosphere for college basketball.”
But Pilipovich is happy to resume the season and excited to see if his team can continue the progress it was showing before the weekend’s complications.
“We’ve checked some boxes this year with ending some streaks,” Pilipovich said. “This is the next game, the most important game and maybe the next opportunity for us to maybe check a box again.”