Taking off

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

There aren’t too many things in college basketball as difficult as going into Clune Arena and earning a win over Air Force. But that’s the task the Runnin’ Utes face when they travel to Colorado Springs to take on the No. 17 Falcons tonight.

The Falcons currently boast one of the longest home winning streaks in the nation at 28 games and have been extremely tough there recently, beating Wyoming and TCU by an average of 39 points.

“They shoot the ball with extreme confidence at home,” Utah coach Ray Giacoletti said. “You can add another 10 points to their score just with how comfortable they are in that building.”

The Runnin’ Utes used a sharp-shooting attack of their own to beat the Falcons earlier this year, combining to shoot 70 percent from the field in an 85-79 win. The victory was the Utes’ first win in conference play and snapped a 13-game Falcon winning streak.

But that was in the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center.

Now the Utes have to travel into hostile territory and try to do something that has not been done since Feb. 19, 2005: Who was that last team to beat Air Force on its home court?

That would be Utah.

While few of the players from that team remain, the upset-minded attitude of the team has not gone away.

“We’ve got to stay within ourselves and just use our advantages,” said Utah forward Shaun Green. “If we go in there and play tough defense and take care of the ball, we could come out with another win.”

There is one distinct advantage that the Utes will surely exploit in tonight’s game — height. The Falcons’ tallest active player is Nick Welch, who stands at merely 6 foot 8. Meanwhile, the Utes have seven athletes who are 6 foot 8 or taller. Utah center Luke Nevill, who averages 17.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season, holds a five-inch advantage over his opponent as he stands at 7 foot 1.

“Anytime you have that big of a size difference over a team, you have to take advantage of it,” Green said. “Luke is extremely hard to stop normally, but with that kind of a size advantage, it’s nearly impossible.”

The Falcons didn’t have an answer for the Aussie the last time the two teams met, as he converted 8-for-8 from the field and finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Falcons started off their season winning 16 of their first 17 games, but have struggled recently in conference play, losing three of their last six games.

In the last meeting between Air Force and Utah, Jacob Burtschi and Dan Nwaelele led the Falcons with 21 and 20 points, respectively. But Air Force has proved time and time again this year that anyone on its roster can go off at any time.

“There isn’t one or two guys you can key on with them,” Utah guard Johnnie Bryant said. “Any guy can go off on any given night. We just have to bring plenty of intensity and play sound defense.”

Utah will try to keep its two-game winning streak alive tonight in Colorado Springs. Game time is set for 8 p.m. and will be televised on Versus.

Lennie Mahler

Luca Drca takes flight on his way to the basket during a drive in the Utes’ victory over Colorado State last Wednesday.