If this doesn't turn out to be rock bottom, Air Force fans may want to divert their eyes in the coming months.
The Falcons trailed by double digits for the seventh straight game, shot 18.5 percent from 3-point range, went more than 8 minutes without scoring at one point and fell 67-48 on the floor of a UC Riverside team that had lost four straight and had an RPI of 300.
“We’re frustrated,” coach Dave Pilipovich told play-by-play announcer Jim Arthur in the postgame show Friday night on 740 AM.
Air Force (5-5) made just 17-of-56 (30.4 percent) shots while UC Riverside knocked down 25 of 47 (53.2). The Highlanders played a zone defense and the Falcons couldn’t penetrate it, couldn’t hit shots to extend it and, after being tied 26-26, were soundly outplayed.
Sure, there was a lot that played into this. Air Force senior center Frank Toohey, a three-year starter, didn’t make the trip as he is in the concussion protocol. The team has been drained by four games in seven days, coinciding with finals preparation at the academy. This was the third time zone visited in 10 days.
The Falcons now take nine days away from games and will take finals next week. Perhaps when that break is finished a different team will materialize for the Dec. 17 meeting against Army at Madison Square Garden.
At this point, that’s the only viable hope; that this slump has been due to tired legs that have compounded issues against the zone. Perhaps after some physical and mental rest, the shots fall and zones will extend or disappear, allowing the Falcons to use their Princeton offense. And, as Pilipovich often notes, players are always better on the defensive end when they are scoring on offense. So maybe it’s a cycle that can be immediately cured. However, if that’s not what’s going on, look out, because what has transpired of late isn’t cutting it. Setting a 12-point loss at Colorado aside, Air Force has fallen to teams in Pacific, Indiana State, Abilene Christian and now UC Riverside that are a combined 10-21 vs. Division I opponents and ranked well out of the top 200 in RPI. And, remember, it took comebacks from 22 and 23 points to beat Denver and Division II Western State. So how is it going to play against a Mountain West slate that includes five teams in the top 102?
“We’ll get it right,” Pilipovich assured Arthur. But he also mentioned that in "regrouping" and "re-energizing" the Falcons will also figure out which players they will go to in the future. It was worth noting that sophomores LeSean Brown and Caleb Morris were the first guards off the bench instead of seniors C.J. Siples (who did not play) and Jacob Van. Sophomores Lavelle Scottie, Ryan Swan and Sid Tomes each started, with Swan scoring a team-high 16 points in place of Toohey.
There’s not a clear answer to the personnel dilemmas facing this team, just as there’s not a clear answer to much of anything at this point. But if answers aren’t found in the coming weeks, things could get even uglier for the Falcons when conference play opens later this month.