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Air Force women cruise by Utah State for first Mountain West Tournament victory in seven years

March 5, 2018 Updated: March 6, 2018 at 7:40 am
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photo - Air Force's Dee Bennett runs upcourt after a Falcons score on Monday in a victory over Utah State at the Mountain West Conference Women's Basketball Championship at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, NV. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MOUNTAIN WEST/NCAA PHOTOS)
Air Force's Dee Bennett runs upcourt after a Falcons score on Monday in a victory over Utah State at the Mountain West Conference Women's Basketball Championship at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, NV. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MOUNTAIN WEST/NCAA PHOTOS) 

The Air Force women’s basketball team made itself competitive through its defense.

On Monday, with the season on the line, the Falcons tore through that next step in development by adding pinpoint shooting and blowing past Utah State 68-54 in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.

Eighth-seeded Air Force buried 10-of-12 shots in the first quarter to build a 10-point lead and were never seriously threatened after that point by the No. 9 Aggies.  

“If we hit shots, you’re in trouble,” coach Chris Gobrecht said. “Because we do play good defense, and we’ve always played good defense.

“It can be pretty deflating to a team to have to work that hard to score, and then we’re able to score the basketball.”

That formula worked to perfection as the Falcons hit 5-of-6 3-pointers in the first half and Utah State, which went 1 of 3 from 3-point range in the game, had no answers.

“It was really difficult to just be able to pass the ball and execute our offense because they were just so in our face,” Utah State’s Rachel Brewster said. “But that's the way they are, and that's how they play. They play really hard. There wasn't really a surprise there.”

The Aggies (7-23) still shot a respectable 47.8 percent from the field, but Air Force forced 18 turnovers thanks to 13 steals and it blocked four shots.

“Every game we approach it the same way, and we know we're going to get in passing lanes, we're going to put pressure on the ball, that's just our identity,” said freshman Kaelin Immel, who joined fellow freshman Emily Conroe in scoring 18 points.

“We're just trying to keep teams in chaos, I guess.”

Dee Bennett added a season-high 14 points along with seven rebounds, while Cortney Porter scored six points with a game-high nine assists.

Air Force (6-24), which started the season 0-17, has now won three straight and four of five heading into Tuesday’s quarterfinal match against top-seeded Boise State at noon. The Broncos won both regular-season matchups, edging Air Force 49-46 at Boise State on Jan. 27 and then using a big second quarter to propel themselves to a 58-47 victory at Clune Arena on Feb. 17.

Tuesday’s victory was the first for the Falcons in the Mountain West Tournament since 2011. The three-game winning streak is a first for the program since 2005.

“Getting a tournament win was definitely on the goal list for this year, and we’ve been able to check off most of our goals,” Gobrecht said.  “We wanted a signature win and we wanted to get a win at the conference tournament.  We have been getting better and better every single week.  We’re playing our best right now.”

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