COLORADO SPRINGS A little over a month ago, the Utah basketball team rolled to a 58-36 victory over Air Force, holding the Falcons to just 13 points in the second half.
Today, the Utes and Falcons, both 4-4 in Mountain West Conference play, meet again at Clune Arena. But the Utes aren't expecting to cruise this time.
"They've improved since we last played them," said Ute coach Jim Boylen. "They're shooting the ball well. They're methodical, they're intelligent, they're very tough, they're competitive people. I have a lot of respect for them. It's my first time going there and I'm excited about it."
The Falcons (12-9) are coming off a 49-38 loss at San Diego State Wednesday night, which was their second-lowest point total of the season. That doesn't give Boylen extra confidence, however.
"I expect a low-scoring, hard-fought, half-court game," Boylen said. "That's what they get you into. Our defense is going to have to be solid again, and we're going to have to make perimeter shots."
Another big key will be getting an early lead. The Utes have started off slow in several games such as Wednesday against UNLV when they fell behind 9-2 after four minutes. It's a lot tougher to do that against a methodical team like Air Force. Boylen points out that a six-point swing against Air Force is like a 20-point swing in other games.
"They take more time than other teams," he said. "There are fewer possessions in their games. We'd like to get the lead. Obviously when they're behind they have to play a little differently, a little faster."
Except for senior Chris Grant, none of the current Utes have tasted success at Air Force, where Utah lost 66-44 and 69-43 the past two years.
"Air Force is a very good team, especially at home," said Shaun Green. "They hit a lot of open shots, and they'll make a lot more plays at home than on the road. They're a very dangerous team. We have to stick to our defensive principles. If we stick to those, we have a good chance of winning again."
The Falcons are led by senior guard Tim Anderson, who is averaging 18.4 points in seven MWC games since being held to 1 of 7 shooting and 7 points against Utah last month. Andrew Henke, who comes off the bench, is the only other Falcon averaging in double figures at 10.1 points per game.
Against UNLV Wednesday the Utes got 26-point performances from both Luke Nevill and Johnnie Bryant, the Utes' sixth man. Green, Tyler Kepkay, Lawrence Borha and Carlon Brown will join Nevill in the starting lineup.After tonight's game, the Utes have a week before their next game against San Diego State at the Huntsman Center.