PROVO — Leave it to BYU sharpshooter Mallary Carling to use a gun analogy in explaining the oft-repeated misfires the Cougar women's basketball players have suffered through this season.

"It's like going out to shoot clay pigeons — and you miss everyone," said Carling, who grew up doing some shooting on the family's dairy farm in Vineyard. "You know you have the ability, but you still miss every one."

With her BYU teammates mostly misfiring Wednesday night at the Marriott Center, Carling connected on a majority of her shots as her game-high 24 points helped the Cougars hold on to hold off Air Force 52-47.

In a full 40-minute effort, Carling made 10-of-16 shots from the field, including 4-of-7 behind the arc, and added four steals, three rebounds, an assist and a critical late-game block.

"Mallary was the only one who was confident to take a shot," said BYU head coach Jeff Judkins, as the Cougars sans Carling managed just 25 percent shooting.

Teammate Lauren Varley added nine points, five blocks and a career-best 15 rebounds.

BYU (10-8 overall, 4-2 Mountain West Conference) remains tied for third in the standings.

Air Force (7-11, 1-5 MWC) had three players in double figures, led by Raimee Beck's 13 points, but shot a meager 28.6 percent as a team. Leading Falcon scorer Alecia Steele was held to three points by Ashley Cheesman and fellow BYU defenders before leaving injured in the second half.

Behind two Carling baskets, BYU led 5-0 72 seconds into the game, and then came one of the Cougars' costly droughts, as the Falcons outscored the hosts 17-3 over the next 11 minutes.

BYU managed only two points in another five-minute stretch — but it was still two more than Air Force scored. Still, the Cougars trailed 22-20 at the half.

"It's been so common this season," said Carling of BYU's woeful stretches. "We recognize it and then start to force everything."

"This team can be so good at times, and then this team can not be focused and not be ready to go," said Judkins, adding "it's like the measles — you just can't stop it."

With BYU down four midway in the second half, Carling, Varley and Shawnee Slade helped the Cougars regain the lead, up 45-41 with 4:31 to play.

Even without a field goal in the final three-plus minutes, AFA trailed only 47-45 with 1:33 left before Carling hit a trey and both Varley and Carling blocked Falcon 3-point attempts in the final 11 seconds.

BYU returns to the Marriott Center for a 4 p.m. game Saturday against Wyoming.