Perhaps a couple of weeks from now, the Utah basketball team will look back on Saturday's loss at New Mexico and see it in a positive light, something along the lines of "the loss was a good wake-up call for us after winning so many in a row."
For now, the Utes (21-5, 9-2) are feeling bad about their lackluster performance in a 76-69 loss and trying to regroup for a dangerous Air Force team tonight (7 p.m.) at Clune Arena on the AFA campus.
Even though the Falcons are having a tough Mountain West Conference season (last place at 2-10) following their best non-conference season in more than a decade, they always seem to give the Utes a tough game, particularly at Clune Arena.
Last year, the Utes had to overcame a late six-point deficit to eventually win in overtime. The year before, the Falcons kept the Utes from winning an outright title with a convincing 71-60 victory. The year before that, the Utes needed a last-minute miracle by Alex Jensen to escape with a one-point victory.
The Utes certainly won't be looking past the Falcons, particularly after Saturday's defeat.
"This is going to be an even tougher game," said Britton Johnsen, who struggled with just five points on 1 of 9 shooting. "They're all about discipline and making you make the wrong decision. As a team we've got to regroup and get ready for another tough team. If we don't come out aggressive, we'll lose."
The Utes didn't come out aggressive — at least they didn't come out with energy and enthusiasm, according to coach Rick Majerus — against New Mexico, which jumped on the Utes early and never let up. That was his biggest complaint after the loss and the players agreed with him.
"Each of us has to look inside and see why that happened," said Ute guard Nick Jacobson. "We've got to deal with it and come out and play better Monday."
While they'll almost certainly come out and play with more spirit than two days earlier, Air Force coach Joe Scott isn't worried about that the loss will fire up Utah.
"It's more about what we're going to do — what Air Force team are you going to see Monday night?" he said. "There's not time to be disappointed. If you're disappointed, you're going to lose. It's a loser's mentality."
If the Utes are to beat the Falcons, they're going to have to solve their problem of Saturday when they couldn't work the ball inside and settled for 3-pointers, a school-record 40 for the game.
In BYU's 56-43 victory over the Falcons Saturday, the Cougars got the ball inside to their 6-11 center Rafael Araujo, who scored a season-high 31 points. The Utes will need to use their height advantage with 6-10 Tim Frost and 6-9 Johnsen and perhaps utilize 6-11 Cameron Koford more. In last year's game at AFA, Koford produced 15 points and eight rebounds.
"We'll get ourselves ready, and coach will get us ready," promised Johnsen.
Following tonight's game, the Utes return home for games against Colorado State Thursday night and Wyoming Saturday afternoon.
Utah Utes (21-5, 9-2 MWC)
Name Ht. Yr. PPG
F Britton Johnsen 6-9 Sr. 11.9
F Trace Caton 6-4 Sr. 4.6
C Tim Frost 6-10 Jr. 13.0
G Nick Jacobson 6-4 Jr. 13.2
G Tim Drisdom 6-3 Fr. 5.1
Air Force Falcons (11-14, 2-10)
Name Ht. Yr. PPG
F A.J. Kuhle 6-4 Jr. 8.7
F Joel Gerlach 6-6 Jr. 11.8
C Tom Bellairs 6-7 Sr. 6.0
G Tim Keller 6-3 So. 15.4
G Vernard Jenkins 5-9 Sr. 3.9
Tonight 7 p.m.
Clune Arena (6,002), Colorado Springs
TV: KJZZ-TV Radio: KALL 910 AM