After Dave Pilipovich jumped on a chair to avoid a mouse, announced he was giving away 1,000 tickets for Tuesday night's game and commented on the sheer size of a No. 17 Nevada squad that was practicing just down the hall, the Air Force basketball coach fielded questions from The Gazette's Brent Briggeman at a press conference Monday. Pilipovich's Falcons (13-15, 8-8 Mountain West) will host the Wolf Pack (26-3, 13-3) at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Q: In the first meeting (a 67-52 Nevada victory after Air Force led for most of the first 30 minutes), what happened in the final 10 minutes to change the game?
Their defensive pressure. They amped it up. We watched it yesterday and showed the team. Chris Joyce cmae down, he went behind the back, between the legs, behind the back and Caleb Martin stole it, dunked it and pointed at him as he went down the court. You don’t need behind the back and between the legs, just go by him. Or advance it. They just guarded us really hard. We were up 2 with 10 minutes to go and they decided they were just going to shut everything down with full-court pressure. We kind of backed up a little bit on our heels. Their crowd had a lot to do with it, too. It was a sellout, 10,000, it was loud in there. Guy behind me was yelling everything at me. They got deflections on the ball and they got some runouts. We forced some bad shots, like one on three, and that was like a turnover because they rebounded, threw it out and got on a run. So we’ve got to expect the pressure early and often and we’ve got to take care of the ball.
If I’m a typical Colorado Springs resident looking for a reason to come our for a 9 p.m. tipoff, what reasons would you give to suggest Air Force can make this a game?
Confidence. We have played with confidence here the last two weeks of the season. I think our team plays really hard. I think our team’s fun to watch and they enjoy playing. Going back to the confidence level, I think we feel we can compete with teams that maybe we didn’t play as well early in the season, which we have. And I think it’s our last home game, and our team feeds off that. Our team loves to play at Clune Arena. They love the fans that come out, they love the cadets that come out. It’s a cozy atmosphere and it’s a nationally televised game. We have done some good things and we have beaten a couple ranked teams here at home in the last six, seven years.
Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said Ryan Swan, who scored 37 in a win over the Cowboys on Saturday, probably isn’t a tremendous athlete, but plays with a lot of savvy. Do you agree with that?
Ryan has always had a really good feel for the game. Pretty cerebral. Really good skill set – can dribble, pass and shoot. His body has changed over the years, sometimes good, sometimes not so good. But he isn’t going to outjump you or run by you, but he’ll outthink you and out-skill you. If coach Edwards said that, I think it was pretty accurate.
Can Swan do that against defenders like Nevada will throw at him?
I’ll let you know at 10:30 tomorrow. But, yeah, he can. Where he’s got to get into position is not doing things he can’t do. Not trying to dribble by somebody, not trying to go up through two people on the post. But picking his spots, checking out on the perimeter. Loosening the defense up. Hopefully making a shot or two from 3. And then getting himself inside and getting something in transition. That’s what he’s done this year. He’s been very good. He’s let the game come to him and he’s seen what he’s been able to take advantage of.
Freshman point guard A.J. Walker seems to have transformed from a big scorer to more of a caretaker and distributor. Is that by design, or just him taking what the defense provides?
A little bit of both. As he’s played more, there’s more tape on him and there are more scouting reports on him. So they’ve taken away a few things. But I think he has really grown into his role and he’s become a lot more cerebral and a better playmaker for us. Early in the year, especially in the Nevada game, you’d see him dribble in and there’s three or four guys on him and he tries and shot and doesn’t make it. Against Wyoming he got into the lane and there’s three guys and he kicks it into the corner to Ryan or he throws it back to Lavelle or Chris Joyce. He’s been able to adjust and adapt to how people are guarding him, and he’s grown. He’s getting better, getting older.
A lot of coaches say all games need to be approached the same way, but do you think you’ll be pretty amped up for this one?
This will be fun. We’re at eight conference wins right now. If you had told me when we were 0-3 in January that we would be 8-8 at this point in the season I would have hugged you and said that’s awesome, because we had some challenges right there. We weren’t playing as well, but we were still growing. We were still gaining confidence. To be where we’re at right now, this will be fun. You want to be measured up against the best teams in your league. Utah State and Nevada are the best, but we’re not playing Utah State, we’re playing Nevada. And they’re one of the top 20 teams in the country. To get a chance to play them here in our last home game will be exciting for our team and, I think it will set a little mark of where we are at, too, against an elite team in the country.