Call this a workmanlike victory.
BYU pounded out a 72-55 win over Air Force Thursday in the Marriott Center, in a game that provided few clips for either team's highlight film.It did have some weird moments, though, with misfired alley-oop passes, a tip-in to the wrong basket, and BYU center Shawn Bradley not taking a shot for the first 16-plus minutes.
But mostly it was just a scrappy defensive game. "Our defense keyed the whole game," said BYU Coach Roger Reid. "We knew if we didn't stay intense, we could get caught."
Air Force coach Reggie Minton said that the Persian Gulf conflict has put basketball into perspective for his players. They may be 0-5 in the WAC, but there are worse things than that.
"Naturally, the war that's going on over there is not just a TV war to us," he said. "It's real life. Most of us know people that are there."
Still, said Minton, "I've got no complaints as long as they come out and play hard."
And they do play hard. The Falcons are not the WAC's most talented team, and they aren't tall, and they don't shoot very well, but they don't quit before the final buzzer. They battle for rebounds, contest every pass, deny floor position.
They also did as good a job as New Mexico center Luc Longley of stifling Bradley, holding him to seven points despite having no one taller than 6-foot-8 (and they looked closer to 6-6) on the floor. The difference was that Bradley took only four shots this time, as the Falcons double-and triple-teamed him whenever he touched the ball. His first field goal came five minutes into the second half.
Bradley also blocked just two shots, but he didn't get many opportunities. When the Falcons weren't shooting from way outside, they were posting their center high to pull Bradley away from the basket.
But while Bradley was quiet, forward Steve Schreiner picked up the slack, and say, isn't this becoming a trend? In BYU's last two-game homestand, Schreiner earned WAC player of the week honors for his 54 points and 30 rebounds. Then the Cougs went on the road, and Schreiner disappeared while Bradley got 52 points, 18 rebounds and 16 blocked shots in two games. Then they came back to Provo, and Schreiner scored 23 and grabbed nine rebounds, and Bradley etc., etc., etc.
The only other Cougar to score in double figures was guard Scott Moon, who started off the game looking like he might exceed the career-high 26 he scored against Wyoming. Moon hit three of his first four shots and three free throws to account for 10 of BYU's first 19 points, but he was one for nine the rest of the night. He ended up with 12.
Still, Moon got the Cougs headed in the right direction and the rest of the team took it from there. Nathan Call's back-to-back three-pointers made it 25-10 BYU nine minutes into the game, and the Falcons cut the lead to six before settling for a 10-point halftime deficit, 37-27.
The closest Air Force got in the second half was eight, and BYU led by as much as 23 before Reid emptied his bench.
For the Falcons, guard Charles Smith scored a career-high 20 points. More remarkable is that he's a 41 percent shooter but made eight of 13 shots, and only one was a layup. The other Falcon in double figures was Chris Lowry, with 10. As a team, Air Force shot 35 percent from the field.
The Cougars are 11-9 overall, 5-2 in the WAC. They play Wyoming in the Marriott Center Saturday at 7:30 p.m., the winner claiming sole possession of second place in the league.
GAME NOTES: BYU players wore flag decals on their uniforms to honor U.S. soldiers in the Middle East . . . This marked the WAC debuts of newcomers Keegan Kane and Robert Jones, as every Cougar player made an appearance . . . Jared Miller continues to be the forgotten player on this team, finding floor time hard to come by since his return from a knee injury.