BYU pounded out a 70-61 win over Air Force here Saturday night, and Coach Roger Reid didn't want anyone thinking it was anything but pretty.
"It wasn't an ugly game or anything else," Reid said. "It was a great win against a team that has played everybody tough here."Reid offered that comment without prompting, no doubt figuring that observers might have found the contest less than artistic - considering the 53 free throws and spectator-numbing working down of the shot clock by both sides.
Reid, though, said he would have been ecstatic with a one-point win - as long as it meant his team clinched second place in the WAC.
"We're just pleased to death to be in second place," he said. "We're playing as good as we did last year. You have to remember, last year we had five losses and tied for the league championship."
Actually, BYU clinched second place even before the game started, since Wyoming had already lost to San Diego State. That left UTEP and New Mexico as the only teams that could tie BYU in the final standings, and BYU has a tiebreaker edge over both of those teams by virtue of having swept them. The result is that BYU will be the second seed in the WAC Tournament, and at this point it looks like the Cougars will play either Colorado State or Hawaii.
The big worry now is how the Cougars will compensate for the loss of guard Scott Moon, who broke a bone in his shooting hand when he accidentally hit Shawn Bradley in the face during practice Friday. Moon may be lost for the season. "Scott's been our best defensive stopper," Reid said. "We've got other guys who can play, but he's got the best overall athletic ability on our team."
Reid has so much confidence in Moon that he gave him the the assignment of guarding Utah's 6-foot-10 Josh Grant last Saturday. The fact that Grant had a good game anyway just underscores the fact that the Cougs may have trouble with defensive matchups in next Saturday's rematch with the Utes.
For this game, however, the Cougars didn't seem to miss Moon much. Forward Kenneth Roberts and guard Mark Santiago picked up the offensive slack with career-high scoring nights, and the defensive deficit didn't seem to hurt - mainly because Air Force doesn't have many guys that can shoot.
Falcon Coach Reggie Minton is aware of his team's offensive weakness, and relies heavily on the tactic of milking the clock and not shooting until the defense's eyes droop. The basic idea is that other teams can't blow you out of the gym if they only shoot 35 times a game, and Minton sticks to it doggedly even when his team falls behind by double digits.
The other part of Minton's plan is to keep his team just close enough to win a free-throw battle in the closing minutes. But while his team made 11 of 12 free throws in the final six minutes to trim a 13-point BYU lead to five, the Cougars hit 16 of 21 foul shots over the same stretch to hold off the Falcons.
The first half was fairly uneventful, except for the fact that Air Force beat BYU on the boards, 11-9. Bradley had only two points in the half as he attracted a constant double-team, and he seemed to have trouble hanging on to the few passes thrown his way.
BYU used a press effectively late in the half to build a 10-point lead, but the Falcons cut the lead to six, 32-26, by the buzzer.
In the second half BYU went to the boards hard. Led by Roberts, who finished with 10 rebounds, the Cougars outboarded AFA 21-10. And with all the attention on Bradley and Steve Schreiner, Roberts found his path to the basket more open than usual. He scored 15 in the half, 21 in the game, including a nifty alley-oop dunk and a two-hand slam after a length-of-the-court pass from Gary Trost.
"I shot pretty good in practice this week and I was feeling pretty good," Roberts said. "Hey, there's only so many games left and I figured I might as well put it up."
Roberts also benefited from the end-of-game free-throw spree, getting nine points at the line. The other free-throw hero for BYU was Santiago, who hit eight of nine to en route to a career-high 13 points.Schreiner was the other Cougar in double figures, with 14, while Bradley finished the game with what he had at halftime - two points. Reid said he expected that it might be an off-night for Bradley, then acknowledged that Bradley might be thinking about more than basketball these days. An article on Bradley in a Colorado Springs newspaper Saturday again raised the question of whether Bradley will go on an LDS mission, and Bradley's comments seemed more than ever to indicate he might be leaning toward an uninterrupted basketball career. Roberts said the uncertainty is weighing heavily on his tall teammate.
"He's been doing a lot of thinking lately," Roberts said. "He's been really quiet."
Then he added, "He'll work out his problems."
For his part, Roberts said he decided not to even consider the mission question until the season was over.
"I don't know if it's good to put it off, but I've tried to put it off and not think about it," he said.
The Cougars have one regular-season game left, against Utah in the Marriott Center. While a loss to Utah won't change the Cougars' seeding in the WAC tourney, it could hurt their chances of getting a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
GAME NOTES: Backup center Gary Trost needed two stitches to close a cut in the bridge of his nose.