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Final stretch of conference season presents an opportunity for Air Force hoops

February 21, 2014 Updated: February 22, 2014 at 6:54 am
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The Air Force men's basketball team enters the final stretch of the conference season with a chance to help itself into a favorable seed for the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.

The Falcons are 10th out of the league's 11 teams, but they are just half a game out of a three-way tie for eighth and a game and a half out of seventh.

With seemingly winnable home games against Nevada and UNLV sandwiched around a trip to face a Wyoming team that just lost its top player - Larry Nance Jr. - for the season, the Falcons (10-14, 4-9 Mountain West) have an opportunity to make a run before closing the season with a trip to New Mexico and a home game against Boise State.

"We're good enough to win some games here," said coach Dave Pilipovich, whose team has been competitive in all but one Mountain West game. "We're good enough to get to Vegas and surprise some people."

Under the conference tournament format, the teams seeded 6 through 11 play on the first day, with those ranked 1 through 5 receiving a bye. With fifth place all but unreachable at this point, the ideal scenario for Air Force would be to finish sixth and take on San Jose State in that opening game.

For a Falcons team that has traditionally struggled at the tournament, winning just two games there since the conference was formed in the 1999-2000 season, a favorable matchup in the opener would be huge.

Other teams that will likely be playing on that first day include Fresno State (13-14, 6-8), Utah State (15-11, 5-9) and Colorado State (14-13, 5-9). Air Force is 1-4 against those teams, with the lone victory coming against Utah State when it was without big man and leading scorer/rebounder Jarred Shaw.

Climbing into the No. 6 seed would mean the Falcons must pass those three teams, plus catch either Nevada (12-15, 7-7) or Boise State (17-9, 7-6).

That effort will begin Saturday, as Air Force comes off of a weeklong break by hosting the Wolf Pack at 2 p.m.

GAME PREVIEW

Nevada (12-15, 7-7 Mountain West) at Air Force (10-14, 4-9)

2 p.m. Saturday, 740 AM, No TV (streamed live on the Mountain West Network)

Summary: The game is a rematch of Nevada's 69-56 overtime victory Jan. 1, a game in which the Falcons forced overtime despite missing their first 14 3-point attempts and falling into an 18-point first-half hole while playing without leading scorer Tre' Coggins.

Key stat: Nevada has lost five in a row, its last victory came against Air Force.

Player the Falcons must contain: AJ West. His four offensive rebounds in overtime ruined Air Force's chances as he took over on the inside in the first meeting. If he establishes that same presence earlier in the game, the Falcons may not have an answer.

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