Utah center Andrew Bogut, right, pulls down a rebound as Air Force forward Dan Nwaelele reaches in for the ball int he second half. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Feb. 19, 2005
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) - The winning streak marches on and the conference title belongs to Utah. Pretty soon, it will be tournament time and the Utes look like a team that could do some damage there, as well.
Andrew Bogut scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half Saturday to lead No. 14 Utah to its 18th straight victory, a 65-56 win over Air Force that clinched the Mountain West Conference championship.
"To have a day where you accomplish the main goal of your season, I'd say it ranks right up there at the top," first-year Utes coach Ray Giacoletti said.
In what may have been the most impressive win of the streak, which began Dec. 17, the Utes (23-3, 11-0) snapped Air Force's 24-game home winning streak. They need three more wins to become the first team to run the table in the 6-year-old MWC. Either way, they are well on track for their 26th NCAA tournament appearance.
"Our number-one goal was winning a conference championship," Giacoletti said. "We said if we do that, we'll stop and put another goal on the table. We'll probably have a chance to look at that tomorrow."
Air Force (15-10, 6-4), ranked 104 in the latest RPI ratings, lost a chance at a quality victory it dearly needed to make the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. The Falcons, who came in with a half-game lead over Wyoming for second place, now fight for seeding for the conference tournament, which they very well may have to win to head back to the NCAAs.
"Right now, the postseason isn't necessarily important to us," first-year coach Chris Mooney said. "We've just got to concentrate on (Monday's opponent) BYU and the road trip" that follows.
Jacob Burtschi had 15 points for the Falcons, but they all came in the first half, before Utah's defense firmed up and Bogut started taking over on both ends of the floor.
The Utes stayed more patient in getting him the ball, and when they did, Bogut typically had his defender sealed and made an easy spin move for a bucket.
"It's very frustrating," Mooney said. "You're not going to hold him to six points, we realize that. But when the ball got into him, it was too easy."
On defense, meanwhile, Bogut altered shots and generally frustrated Air Force, which by using its typical slowdown style, played right into the big man's hands.
Trailing 53-45 with about 2 minutes left, Bogut altered Nick Welch's shot, then blocked Dan Nwaelele's attempt after the rebound - a typical sequence for the Utes, who allowed only three field goals over the first 15 minutes of the second half.
"I haven't been part of a team that's played this kind of team defense before," guard Marc Jackson said. "That's why we've had this kind of success."
Bryant Markson scored 15 points and Jackson had 12 for Utah, which has the second-longest winning streak in the nation, behind only top-ranked Illinois (27 straight).
Welch also had 15 points for the Falcons, whose last home loss came March 3, 2003, to Utah.
Utah shot 29 free throws to only three for Air Force. Although many of Utah's free throws came while Air Force was playing catch-up late, Mooney was understandably miffed.
"I have no idea," he said. "I thought we had a good crew. It's just disappointing we could only get to the free throw line three times."