As it turns out, there’s been a silver lining to Air Force’s situation in basketball.
Though the Falcons desperately wanted to be in a better tournament, their time in the CIT has allowed them to earn perhaps the season’s grittiest win at Hawaii on Wednesday and now they go on the road to face a Weber State team that missed the NCAA Tournament by just three points.
“It was everything you wanted in a game right now,” Pilipovich said of the 69-65 victory at Hawaii, in which Air Force was up by 14 early, down by six, rallied back and maintained a lead late in what Pilipovich described as a playoff atmosphere. “We were in some adverse conditions and situations in the game our players really responded. For our younger guys to go through that, you can’t ask for anything more.”
The road gets no easier as Air Force (18-13) travels to face the Weber State (27-6) at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Wildcats were denied a shot at the NCAA Tournament by a 67-64 loss to Montana in the Big Sky Tournament championship game. They had defeated the Grizzlies by 24 points the month before.
Weber State is ranked No. 85 in the most recent RPI ratings. Air Force is No. 80.
“They’re a similar team to New Mexico – not at that level, obviously – but they’re similar,” Pilipovich said. “They can score inside, score on the perimeter, have some athletic guys who can drive it and they’ve got some bigs who can really do some damage rebounding, screening and scoring in the post.”
Air Force would have its work cut out even if it weren’t facing another quality team. The Falcons faced long travel back from Hawaii, with players and coaches boarding three separate flights because the short notice kept them from find enough seats on a plane to accommodate everyone.
Some players didn't arrive until midday Friday after flying overnight.
The Falcons are also still without leading scorer Michael Lyons, who is lost for the season with a knee injury. Senior Kyle Green, who replaced Lyons in the lineup, scored 11 quick points and finished with 18 at Hawaii.
“The nice thing about how we play, anyone can score any night,” said senior Mike Fitzgerald, who scored 25 points with nine rebounds against Hawaii. “We didn’t get to play a lot of our Princeton offense, but when we do it opens up some pockets for shooters, and we have a lot of that on our team – a lot of shooters.”