Sometimes a moral victory works, too; particularly when considering the disparity between Air Force and Colorado women’s basketball.

The Falcons fell 58-53 to the Buffaloes at Clune Arena on Sunday in a slugfest that saw Air Force fall behind by 11 points, then claw back to within one point with 2 minutes remaining.

“It is encouraging,” said Air Force 6-foot forward Haley Jones, who had nine rebounds, five steals and three blocks in 32 minutes against Colorado post players several inches taller than her. “We pick up a few things, we’re right there with a Pac-12 team.”

It’s not just the Pac-12 vs. Mountain West factor. It’s everything.

CU has made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and have won their conference regular-season or postseason tournament seven times. Air Force has never finished with a winning record as a Division I program and posted a 22-290 record in its first 20 years in a D1 conference.

The Buffaloes (2-0) have defeated the Falcons all seven times they’ve played. Last year’s game resulted in a 42-point victory for Colorado.

And while Air Force (1-1) graduated three four-year contributors – Emily Conroe, Kassady Huffman and Kaelin Immel – from that meeting a year ago, the Buffaloes brought back all five starters and added some veteran newcomers, including 6-foot-3 Washington transfer Quay Miller, who scored 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting with seven rebounds on Sunday.

“That was the exact same team, none of them left,” Air Force coach Chris Gobrecht said. “For us to come back far against the exact same team, I just think this team has a whole different mindset. I think they are very much willing to scrap and claw and fight.”

Instead of the big picture build, Air Force can now look at issues from Sunday like missed layups and turnovers (CU held a 26-14 edge in points off turnovers) as areas that made the difference between a win and a loss. Air Force shot 34.5 percent, a figure that is explained by a shot chart that shows 11 missed shots from point-blank range.

“I think we competed well, but since we know we’re that much better we have to be able to finish games,” said senior Cierra Winters, who led Air Force with 16 points and six steals. “I’m proud of us, but at the same time we know we can do more now.

“We’ve just got to clean up those little details. It’s just the little things.”

Senior Riley Snyder, still recovering from a back injury that limited her preseason, scored 11 points, as did sophomore forward Dasha Macmillan.

Colorado shot 51.1 percent but attempted eight fewer field goals than the hosts as Air Force came up with 17 steals and outrebounded CU 13-10 on the offensive glass.

“Oh man, I never like playing Air Force,” CU coach JR Payne said. “They’re so tough, so disciplined, so gritty. They’re so aggressive. All of those things, I think, really help us become a better basketball team. But they earned every single possession tonight. We did too.

“I’m thankful that our military is that tough and gritty, and they are worthy of what they represent on their chest.”

The Falcons pulled to within 51-50 on a Winters layup with 2:17 remaining. Jaylyn Sherrod, who scored 11 for Colorado, responded with a 3-pointer 18 seconds later.

Riley Snyder’s 3 with 14 seconds left made it a three-point game, but the Buffaloes put it away with a pair of free throws.

Payne was, of course, happy her team escaped a tough situation.

“I love Air Force,” she said. “I don’t love them enough to want to lose.”

The Falcons, meanwhile, were left balancing the disappointment of a close loss with the realization that competing with teams like Colorado can be the new normal if they continue in their current trajectory.

“They know they should get a lot of confidence from this,” Gobrecht said. “But at the same time they’re too busy right now feeling bad about things that didn’t have to happen. And that’s OK. We need to. I think we’ll get to that point.”

Load comments