BYU needs one win to clinch second place in the WAC.

If the Cougars fail to beat cellar-dwelling Air Force here tonight, they might be faced with having to defeat Utah next Saturday in Provo to wrap up second place. Right now three teams are tied for third with 7-6 records. BYU, 10-4, won the season series with UTEP and New Mexico and would edge them for second place in the event of a tie, but would drop to third place if it finished deadlocked with Wyoming, since the Cowboys beat the Cougs twice.And a 10-6 finish for Wyoming isn't far-fetched, since the Cowboys' three remaining games are at home, against San Diego State, Colorado State and UTEP.

What does all this mean? It could be the difference between playing San Diego State or Colorado State in the first round of the WAC Tournament, instead of Hawaii. BYU has handled the Aztecs and Rams fairly easily this season but lost to the Rainbows in Hawaii and beat them by eight in Provo.

A loss here would also make it tough for the Cougars to land a berth in the NCAA Tournament. A victory over the Falcons won't guarantee that berth, but a defeat would force BYU to win the WAC tourney to advance to the NCAAs.

The danger for the Cougars is that they could overlook Air Force (8-17 overall, 1-12 WAC), seeing as how this game is sandwiched between meetings with arch-rival Utah. BYU Coach Roger Reid is aware of the danger, but can he convince his players?

"Air Force is a big obstacle for us," Reid said. "They play everybody tough."

Reid said the biggest threat from the Falcons comes from the outside. "Everybody on their team can shoot the 15- or 16-foot jumper, so they pull your guys away from the basket," he said.

On the other hand, Air Force didn't get to be the worst team in the WAC by accident. Missing a lot of those 15-foot jumpers has given them the league's worst field-goal percentage - 37.23. The Falcons are also last in scoring offense (52 points per game) and scoring margin (-11.8).

When these teams met in Provo, BYU forward Steve Schreiner led both teams in scoring with 23, and in rebounding with nine. Y. guard Scott Moon had 12 points, and Gary Trost eight rebounds. BYU center Shawn Bradley was frequently triple-teamed and finished with seven points. He also had a season-low two blocked shots, as the Falcons fired away from outside and made just 18 of 51 field goals. The high scorer for Air Force was junior guard Charles Smith, with 20.

The game will be televised live by KSL-TV (Channel 5) at 7:30 p.m.

COUGAR NOTES: Moon sprained his hand in practice Friday, but is expected to play . . . BYU's junior varsity finished its regular season last week with a 3-10 record and a 93-73 loss to Utah Valley Community College. Seldom-used Cougs Jeff Campbell, Keegan Kane and Robert Jones played for the jayvees; Campbell finished with 23 points. Kevin Nixon, who signed a letter-of-intent with BYU in November, scored 37 . . . Trost leads the Cougars in field-goal percentage, at 61.8 . . . Moon is tops in three-point percentage, at 44.7 . . . Mark Santiago is the top free-throw shooter, at 90 percent.