If ever the stage were set for a breakthrough road win for Air Force, this would seem to be it.
In visiting UNLV, the Falcons are facing a team they beat by 18 points less than a month ago, setting a program record for points in a conference game with 106 points.
And, the Runnin’ Rebels are in a slide, having lost four of five with each loss coming by at least 17 points.
“Let’s go do something here different,” said coach Dave Pilipovich, whose teams have lost six straight to UNLV on the road – three of the last four coming in overtime. “Let’s go get UNLV at home.”
The Falcons struggles on the road have been well-documented. They are in the midst of a prolonged 3-33 run on the road in conference play, with the only wins coming in a pair of games at San Jose State (which has never found its place as a legitimate Mountain West program) and last year at Colorado State (which was at the start of a 1-12 season-ending tailspin).
It’s as though they step out of the academy and fall through a trap door that leads to shooting woes and general discombobulation. Recall, they defeated San Diego State by 14 points at home on Jan. 12. Two weeks later, they went on the road and lost by 15 to those same Aztecs.
But in UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, the Falcons will find a venue they know well thanks to an annual regular-season game there as well as the Mountain West Tournament.
Junior Lavelle Scottie has already established a mini-residency in Las Vegas, having played five games while logging 130 minutes and scoring 62 points. He should still have at least four more games there, too. It was his 3-pointer in the opening minute that started a 25-0 game-opening run in a victory over Wyoming in March 2017.
Caleb Morris has scored 17 points in a game at UNLV (12-11, 6-5 Mountain West). Ryan Swan 16. Pervis Louder 13.
Basically, there should be little time required for the Falcons (10-13, 5-6) to establish their bearings.
“The goal is to have a winning season,” Scottie said. “Our short-term goal is to get that win at UNLV.”
Conference race implications
A win on Tuesday would bring Air Force into a tie with UNLV at 6-6 in conference, but the Falcons would own the tiebreaker, having swept the season series. The Falcons would then – with six games remaining – be looking up at only Boise State (5-6) between them and the No. 5 spot in the Mountain West, which brings a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Air Force plays at Boise State in the regular-season finale.
Akaya ready to return?
Sophomore forward Ameka Akaya is practicing again for Air Force, but entering Monday he had still been held out of contact drills. Akaya hasn’t played since spraining his knee at San Diego State on Jan. 30, but the Falcons’ leading shooter (.619) may be available on Tuesday. “Hopefully he’ll be good to go,” Pilipovich said of Akaya, who scored 10 points in the first meeting with UNLV.
UNLV has lost four of five, but those five games each came against teams sitting in the top five of the Mountain West standings. The Rebels are still heavy in each aspect that gives Air Force fits – they rank fourth in the conference in 3-point field goals made, second in rebounds and second in blocked shots. Then, there’s always the variable of adjustments. “Our defense has to be a lot better than it was up there,” UNLV guard Noah Robotham told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We have to lock in. I’m sure this game plan will be a little bit more simple than the last one. We probably won’t be doing as much switching as we did up at Air Force. Air Force actually did play good offense, but our defense was not good. That’s a nice way to say it.”