Air Force blows Utah away

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The Runnin’ Utes may have controlled the first few minutes of last night’s game against No. 14 Air Force, but it didn’t take the Falcons too long to realize where they were at.

The home team utilized a stringent defense and a plethora of three-pointers in the first half to distance themselves from the Utes, as Air Force won its 29th consecutive home game going away, 69-42.

That is a very tough place to get a win,” Utah coach Ray Giacoletti said. “The crowd is right there on top of you and they seem to shoot with more confidence in that place.”

The Falcons (22-4, 9-3 MWC) used that confidence to their advantage, shooting an impressive 53 percent from behind the three-point line.

Air Force fell behind 8-2 early in the contest thanks to some pounding post play and sharp shooting from the Utes. But with Luke Nevill picking up his second foul only six minutes into the game, the Utes went into an offensive daze. The result was a 16-0 run by the Falcons that all but subdued the Runnin’ Utes.

“We were just standing still on offense,” Giacoletti said. “It didn’t seem like we were doing anything there for a little bit.”

Despite thoroughly dominating the majority of the first half, the Falcons only carried an 11-point lead into the break. That lead doubled early in the second half thanks to a barrage of Air Force three-pointers. It would eventually expand to 30 points before a pair of Johnnie Bryant three-pointers slowed the bleeding.

The Utes struggled with ball control in the last contest between the two teams (18 turnovers) and this game was no different. Utah turned the ball over time and time again to finish with a whopping 19 giveaways.

“It’s simple,” Giacoletti said. “You’re not going to win too many games turning the ball over that much. Their pressure got to us.”

That pressure — intensified by the close quarters of Clune Arena — has been giving Falcon opponents fits for the past few years, and the Utes were no exception last night. Utah’s play got extremely messy again during a stretch in the second half, when the Falcons pieced together a 15-0 run behind the all-around game of center Nick Welch. The senior led all scorers with a career-high 20 points, hitting 6-for-11 from the field. Welch used Nevill’s distinct size advantage against the Aussie, stepping back and hitting 3-for-4 from behind the three-point line to pace the Falcons. Air Force junior Dan Nwaelele also had a solid night for the home team, scoring 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting.

Meanwhile, the Utes couldn’t seem to get anything going offensively, turning the ball over or taking bad shots on nearly every possession. Nevill proved to be the only bright spot for the Utes, scoring 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting and grabbing five rebounds. Outside of Nevill, the Utes finished 10-for-28 from the floor — just more than 30 percent.

The Utes won’t have too much time to sulk about their latest mishap. They return to play this Saturday at the Huntsman Center when they play host to UNLV. Earlier this season, the Utes lost to the Rebels in double overtime, 97-94.

Lennie Mahler

Shaun Green stretches for a rebound in the Utes’ Feb. 9 loss to Colorado State. Utah lost 43 to 69 to Air Force last night.