Updated: February 15, 2013 at 12:00 am
Air Force spent all of about 70 minutes on the practice floor preparing for Saturday’s home game against Colorado State.
The Falcons’ coaching staff figured the best preparation was to rest up for what promises to be a physical slugfest. Besides that, there wasn’t a great deal the Falcons could simulate on the practice floor.
“Unless we bring (Colton) Iverson in and let him practice against us we can’t really give that look,” coach Dave Pilipovich said.
Iverson was dominant Jan. 16 in a 79-40 blowout victory in Fort Collins. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound senior transfer from Minnesota scored 15 points with seven rebounds, doing nearly all of his damage in the first half and nearly all in demoralizing fashion as he simply overpowered Air Force’s smaller defenders.
Stopping Iverson, as well as Pierce Hornung (who had his best collegiate game with 23 points and 17 rebounds against Air Force last season) will require Air Force to contest everything on the inside. That’s what didn’t happen last time.
“We weren’t Air Force that night, for whatever reason,” Pilipovich said. “We weren’t real hard on our cuts, we weren’t very aggressive, we weren’t finishing plays on either end and once it started to slip away we didn’t fight it back as much as we do. It just kind of snowballed.”
The Falcons have since shown signs of adapting. For an extended stretch at New Mexico they prevented any damage inside with a three-pronged defensive attack – intense ball pressure, fronting the post players and helping on the weak side to contend any passes over the top. When that failed, they fouled. Hard. And that’s likely going to be the plan against the Rams, considering Iverson shoots just 60 percent (84-of-139) from the free-throw line and Hornung is just a tick better at 66 percent.
“If they get it in there we can’t give them any gimmes,” Pilipovich said. “We’d rather they go to the line and shoot two.”
In beating and outrebounding UNLV on Wednesday after being controlled on the inside during a loss in the first meeting, Air Force showed that it is by no means doomed by its earlier struggles.
“We played better against UNLV than we did the time before, and they’re kind of similar to CSU – big and strong and athletic,” Falcons center Taylor Broekhuis said. “I think our scheme worked well against UNLV. Obviously it will be a little different against CSU, but it will be the same mentality.”
It will also require depth, particularly if the fouls start to mount. There’s also the physical toll of combating the most physical team in the conference.
“Taylor’s not going to be able to play 38, 40 minutes against this lineup because he’s going to get beat up,” Pilipovich said. “Marek (Olesinski) is going to be very big in our preparation.”
Olesinski, a sophomore, has averaged more than 10 minutes in relief of Broekhuis over Air Force’s past four games.
“When I go in I need to keep going. I need to match the energy,” Olesinski said. “When I’m in there we can’t decrease in performance.”
Plenty of factors must change from the first game, namely Air Force’s shooting (37 percent) and ball control (19 turnovers). But if the effort against Hornung and Iverson isn’t changed, it likely won’t matter.
“I don’t’ know if we took them lightly, we just didn’t come to play,” Broekhuis said. “We can’t do that again.”
Note: The Mountain West announced Friday that the conference basketball tournament would continue to be held at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas through 2016.
GAME SOLD OUT
Air Force announced that tickets for Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Colorado State were officially gone by about 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon.
This is the first home sellout for Air Force since 6,028 watched a Feb. 9, 2011 loss to BYU when the Cougars featured star Jimmer Fredette.
Though the number can’t be tracked, Air Force’s ticket office estimated about 2,500 of the seats were purchased by CSU supporters.