Dave Pilipovich tried to talk about everything other than his last game.
The Air Force men’s basketball coach opened his press conference Monday with congratulations for the Falcons’ air rifle national title. He lamented the Antonio Brown trade to the Raiders (as a Steelers’ fan, he wasn’t satisfied). And he looked for background on Air Force hockey’s upcoming weekend playoff series.
Anything, it seemed, sounded better than rehashing the Falcons’ lopsided loss at Boise State to close the regular season.
But here’s the thing — and Pilipovich knows it — it was that humiliating 80-52 loss that might go further than anything to extending Air Force’s season as it opens the Mountain West Tournament as the No. 6 seed playing No. 11 San Jose State.
“I think some people around here were telling our guys they were pretty good after the Nevada game,” Pilipovich said. “Nevada’s staff and players complimented our guys, and I think we got a little bit ahead of ourselves.
“This league is too good. There’s good players everywhere you go in this league. You’ve got to be ready to go. I think now we can get their attention a little bit. I think now we can get back to where we were.”
Pilipovich is right to be concerned, according to conference tournament history.
Air Force (13-17, 8-10 Mountain West) has played as the higher seed just four times at the event, losing each game. The good news, if you want to call it that, is that the Falcons haven’t been seeded higher than their opponent since 2007.
They’re just 4-19 in the Mountain West tournament and have never reached the semifinals.
The path is there for a breakthrough to happen this year, as Air Force opens with the Spartans (4-26, 1-17), a team it has beaten twice. Then would come No. 3 Fresno State, a team the Falcons beat on the road in their lone meeting.
Pilipovich would rather talk about anything else than that kind of forward thinking, too.
“To get to the second step, you’ve got to step on the first step,” he said.
And, again, he points to history for a specific warning. Two years ago, the Falcons had been swept by Wyoming in the regular season. The Cowboys knew that beyond Air Force was a rematch with rival Colorado State, against which it had split the season.
Then Air Force jumped to a 25-0 lead and stomped Wyoming.
“If you don’t come out of the gates aggressive, they’re going to gain momentum,” Pilipovich said. “They have nothing to lose. Then the basket gets bigger for them and smaller for you.”
San Jose State took the Falcons to double overtime in the first meeting this season. Then it made things semi-interesting down the stretch at Clune Arena, whittling a 25-point deficit to 12 in the second half.
Michael Steadman, a 6-foot-10 junior center, has averaged 22.5 points and 14.5 rebounds against Air Force this season. The Spartans are long on the perimeter with capable shooters and are tricky defensively against Air Force with the way they pack in a zone and try to take Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan out of the game on the inside.
You’d think a team with Air Force’s history wouldn’t need to be pumped with so many reminders of what’s in front of it now that the postseason has arrived. But Pilipovich also thought he’d wouldn’t have had to remind his squad what was at stake at Boise State — a venue it has long struggled with — on Saturday.
The results? He’d rather not talk about it. He’s too focused on what’s next.