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AFA ends Provo drought

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PROVO — Anyone associated with Air Force basketball — including the Falcons' new-found traveling contingent of hoops fans — knew the magnitude of Saturday's road game against BYU, with the Falcons having won only twice in Provo in the past two decades and not once since a 79-78 victory on Jan. 24, 1989.

Air Force snapped a 13-loss skid at the Marriott Center with a 52-49 victory against the host Cougars, improving the Falcons to 12-6 overall and a perfect 3-0 in the Mountain West Conference and giving the program its first two-win streak in its overall series against BYU.

"BYU and 1989 — people have been saying it all week," said senior guard Tim Keller. "After all the numerous 20-point losses and two-point losses here, it's amazing."

And amazing after all Air Force went through in arriving this weekend. The Falcons — who normally travel commercial — found themselves grounded Thursday night in Denver, thanks to thick fog at Salt Lake City International Airport. The team left at 4 a.m. Friday, arriving in Provo for a noon practice.

"It was almost good for us, especially since this was our first 11 a.m. game," Keller said, adding that changes to their pregame routine helped with focus and preparation.

Another help was the smattering of Air Force cadets and fans who traveled from Colorado Springs for the game. Keller, who estimated the group at 80 to 100, said it marked the first time the basketball team has mustered any type of following for a road game.

"It's hard to get them to follow us," he said. "For football, yes, but never with us."

Historic or not, the Falcons were happy to log a key road win — period.

"And it makes it even more important when you go to the Marriott Center and win," said junior center Nick Welch, who finished with a team-high 16 points. "The difference between being the Mountain West Conference champion and second place is winning on the road."

First-year Falcon head coach Chris Mooney, a three-year Air Force assistant who retained the Princeton-style precision offense refined by his predecessor, Joe Scott, agreed.

"This is huge just because we won in every (MWC) building except here and UNLV last year, and those kind of things tend to get to you," Mooney said. "You need to get over that psychological hump."

While the Falcon offense was in fine form early in the game — back-cut layups and 3-point sharpshooting resulted in leads of 10-0, 13-2, 15-5 and 20-10, Air Force hounded BYU into committing 15 turnovers against its own eight total.

"Playing half-court defense and getting 12 steals means you're playing good defense," Mooney said.

The Falcons face Utah 7 p.m. Monday at the Huntsman Center in a battle of MWC unbeatens.

E-mail: taylor@desnews.com