Scratch Air Force, insert San Diego State.
That's what schedulers at the Western Athletic Conference tournament did after San Diego State beat Air Force 58-51 in a first-round game on Wednesday night.The loss ended Air Force's season and propelled San Diego State into a quarterfinal game tonight against top seed and eighth-ranked Utah.
San Diego State overcame a sluggish first half in which the Aztecs hit just 34.6 percent of their shots and then held off Air Force, which had pulled to within three, 51-48, with 2:14 to play.
"This game will definitely help us," San Diego State coach Jim Brandenburg said after reversing his team's outcome from the 1990 tournament's first-round game won by Air Force.
"Your first game in a tournament is always the hardest, but we got by this one and are looking forward to playing Utah," the coach said.
Brandenburg admits, though, that San Diego State (9-20, 2-14 in the WAC), will have a difficult time getting past Utah (26-2, 15-1).
"They don't look like a very good team, but let me tell you this - they have won 15 games in the WAC, which broke a record that I shared, and if a team can win 15 games in this league, then then have to be a very good, consistent basketball team," Brandenburg said. "They are truly a top 10 national team, and I have a lot of respect for them."
Earlier Wednesday, the Utes were something of a frustrated team because they didn't know who they would face tonight.
"We're penalized the most going into the first round because we don't know who we are going to play," coach Rick Majerus said. "As a result, we haven't prepared for either team, we've just concentrated on our own stuff."
Today's early games had New Mexico playing Hawaii, Brigham Young facing Colorado State, and Wyoming taking on Texas-El Paso.
The winners move on to semifinal games on Friday.
Against Air Force the Aztecs jumped to a 10-2 lead, thanks to the five minutes it took the Falcons to find the basket.
While the lead reached 11 points late in the half, Air Force closed to 26-19 at halftime. But the Falcons again fell cold for five minutes at the start of the second half while San Diego State enlarged the lead to 32-19 before Air Force scored a point.
"Anytime you don't score it's harmful, especially when the other team is scoring," Falcon coach Reggie Minton said. "We started slow but we had some opportunities and some good shots. We had some good shots you pray you can hit."
But Air Force (9-20, 2-15) couldn't make a shot, no matter how much praying the bench did. After hitting just 27.3 percent of their first-half shots, the Falcons slumped further and hit just 26.7 percent in the second half.
Overall, the 26.9 percent field goal percentage (Air Force hit just 14 of 52 floor shots) set a WAC tournament record for futility. Texas-El Paso had held the record for field goal defense, ironically, for holding San Diego State to just 35 percent of its shots in a 1987 tournament game.
While Air Force held San Diego State's Marty Dow to just four points and eight rebounds before he fouled out with 4:13 to play, the Falcons either overlooked or couldn't stop Keith Balzer, who scored eight in the first half and finished with 18 points
For Air Force, Chris Lowry scored 15 points, including 10-of-10 from the foul line.