Hoping for an air-tight game

The Runnin’ Utes are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak in five years, but that could be a tall task when they visit Air Force tonight at 7 p.m.

The Falcons enter the game 15-2 overall and are tied atop the Mountain West Conference with a 3-1 record. After they lost their second coach in quick succession after last season, the Falcons have sustained their success with former Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik.

While the Utes feel that they can handle the gaudy Falcon record, the issue comes with Air Force’s complicated switching defense, which has given teams fits this season to the tune of 53.2 points allowed per game-second in the country.

“They do something different than people see in the course of the year,” U head coach Ray Giacoletti said. “They switch one through five. It makes you stop and not attack, but you have to be in attack mode and penetrate the middle of that thing. Teams that have been successful with penetration have had success.”

Air Force is often overlooked thanks to their small players and below-average athleticism. But Utah knows that when it visits Clune Arena on Thursday night, it can’t overlook anything-something that many teams have foolishly done over the years.

“You’d think it would be easier because of their size, but it’s not,” Ute center Chris Jackson said. “It seems like there is always a guy in front of you and behind you. You don’t really know where the next guy’s coming from.”

Even though Air Force is a thorn in most teams’ sides, the Utes have had success against them. Utah holds a 42-9 series advantage and have won the last two in the series. In fact, the Falcons have won 36 of 37 games at home with their only loss over that span coming at the hands of the Utes last season.

“Last year we had Bogut, and that made it easier because we could throw it up to him and let him do the rest,” Jackson said. “Maybe we can learn something from that for (Thursday’s) game.”

While the Utes will be without Bogut, they will once again have the services of point guard Tim Drisdom, who returns after missing the previous four games due to a bone bruise in his knee. But thanks to players stepping up in his absence, don’t expect to see the senior go right back into the regular rotation.

“I think (sophomore guard) Chris Grant has done a very good job,” Giacoletti said. “His assist-to-turnover ratio is best on the team, and he does the little things that we need right now. We don’t need to mess with that.”

The Utes and Falcons will be televised on ESPN2 and will tip off at 7 p.m. Utah returns home to face UNLV on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.

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