COLORADO SPRINGS — After completing a perfect (7-0) February, the Utah basketball team will try to keep its winning streak alive in March when it faces Air Force tonight at 7 p.m. at Clune Arena.
On paper this one looks like a gimmee with the 18-9 Utes, winners of seven straight, going against the hapless Falcons (7-19), who have lost four straight and have won just two of 12 Mountain West Conference games. However, the Utes only have to look as far as last year's game here to understand it won't be easy tonight.
The Utes really had no business escaping with a victory last year when they came in 16-3, ranked 19th in the country. The Falcons dominated the action for much of the game and led by four points with 50 seconds left. But the Utes' Alex Jensen scored on a long 3-pointer and then made a three-point play to put the Utes up 64-63 in the final seconds and they held on to win.
This year the Utes don't have Jensen, but they do have a talented bunch of players that are playing together more as a team every game.
One player who has come to the forefront lately is freshman guard Nick Jacobson, who scored 13 points in the second half in the win over BYU Saturday. He'll be joined in the starting lineup by Travis Spivey, Chris Burgess, Britton Johnsen and Phil Cullen. Jeff Johnsen, Nate Althoff and leading scorer Kevin Bradley will all see significant action.
Air Force is 4-8 at home this season and 2-3 in league play. The Falcons got home conference wins over Colorado State (46-45) in late January and New Mexico (53-49) on Feb. 10. However, the Falcons lost handily to San Diego State in their last home contest.
Senior forward Jarvis Croff is eighth in the MWC in scoring (13.3 ppg), is shooting 35.8 percent from 3-point range and is averaging 3.7 rebounds. Sophomore guard Vernard Jenkins is fourth in the league in assists (3.8 apg), while sophomore center Tom Bellairs, who was co-freshman of the year last year, is fifth in the conference in rebounding (7.4 rpg).
Freshman forward Robert Todd, who was second on the team in scoring when he played against Utah four weeks ago, has been suspended from the team for the rest of the season.
Because they are tied with Wyoming for first in the MWC at 9-3, the Utes figure they must win tonight and Saturday against New Mexico to have a chance at the coveted No. 1 seed in the MWC tournament.
By winning twice, the Utes can clinch at least a share of the conference title, but if they tie with Wyoming, they'll need UNLV to finish ahead of Colorado State to garner the No. 1 seed, which gives the Utes a first-round bye in the tourney.
GAME NOTES: Ute reserve forward Trace Caton should have some fans on hand since he hails from nearby Alamosa, Colo. . . . The Utes lead the all-time series 35-6 with a 13-5 edge in Colorado Springs . . . The last AFA win came in 1994 at home 91-89 . . . In the game last month, the Utes held on for a 63-58 victory behind Bradley's 15 points.
Utes on the air
Utah at Air Force
Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14
Radio: KALL, 910 AM