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BYU basketball: For Cougars, it's bombs away against Air Force

PROVO — The BYU Cougars took out their recent shooting frustrations on Air Force Saturday afternoon by shooting down the Falcons in the Marriott Center with an early barrage of 3-point bombs.

In the first half alone, in BYU's eventual 91-48 victory, the Cougars hit 10 shots from behind the arc in 14 tries. Jackson Emery hit two 3-pointers to open the game and finished the first half making 4-of-5 from deep. Jonathan Tavernari added to the long-range attack by coming off the bench to drill 5-of-5 3-point shots in the first 20 minutes alone.

"I was really pleased with how we started the game and how we kept our momentum going in the first half. ... We really shared the ball well, played on attack, and really took good shots and shot with confidence," BYU coach Dave Rose said.

The early bombs-away assault, combined with BYU's dominance on the boards and stingy defense, led to three big first-half runs that, for all intent and purposes, grounded the Falcons even before the halftime break. The Cougars led 53-20 at the intermission, but had the margin up to 35 points seconds earlier.

"There were several times when I remember a guy who was open, making a pass to a guy who was more open," Emery said.

The Cougars hit 20-of-30 first-half shots (67 percent), out rebounded Air Force 19-7 over the first 20 minutes and had five steals. Perhaps the key statistic was the 16 assists on BYU's 20 first-half baskets.

"It was just really good to see us share the ball and make extra passes. I think at one time we had 12 baskets and 10 assists, so that's a good way for us to play," Rose said.

The Cougars said the way they played Saturday was reflective of how they practiced all week. They were not only frustrated with last weekend's loss to UNLV, but in how they lost — trailing at one time by 29 points. So the emphasis this week was to get back to sharing the ball, making the extra pass and playing at a faster tempo.

"The ball movement is so key to how we play, because it gets everyone involved. We get confidence from each other, and I think the strength of our team has always been the team mates, and being able to have confidence in your team mates. I believe the guys are pretty committed to it, and we practiced pretty similar to how we played today, so that's a good sign," Rose said.

After BYU went up 6-0 on Emery's two quick treys, the Falcons actually scored seven straight to take a 7-6 lead. But when Jimmer Fredette drilled a 3-pointer from up top, off of an assist from Emery, the Cougars were on top for good and off to the races.

When Tavernari drilled a trey from the left corner with 12:14 left in the half, the basket completed a 12-0 run that put the Cougars up 18-7. After a dunk by Air Force's Evan Washington, Tavernari led the Cougars on a 16-3 run in which he hit four straight 3-pointers. A 19-3 run, that included two 3-pointers from Emery, to finish the half gave the Cougars a 33-point lead at the break.

"That's how we play, and that's how we want to play," Tavernari said. "Of course, it gets way easier when you shoot 67 percent in the first half and 71 percent from the 3-point line."

The Falcons didn't let the Cougars extend their lead for the first part of the second half, and had actually cut the margin down to 30 with 11 minutes remaining. The Cougars, however, went on another tear, this time with many of the starters on the bench, and eventually widened the lead up to 46.

"Coming out in the second half, we played with them for the first few minutes, but we lost the game in the first half. They had more energy than we did," Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said.

The 43-point defeat was Air Force's third-worst ever, and worst-ever loss in a league game — including the Falcons' days in the Western Athletic Conference.

"They moved the ball really well and they played the best offense they could have played," Reynolds said. "They are a good basketball team — worthy of their ranking."

Tavernari finished with a game-high 19 points, with Emery scoring 18 and freshman Tyler Haws adding 16. Fredette scored nine on 3-of-6 shooting, but dished out a game-high six assists with only one turnover.

"He did a really good job of reading what the defense gave him," Tavernari said of Fredette's unselfish play "He penetrated, when guys double- or triple-teamed him, he let it loose. But of course, when the game is on the line and it's tough, we know that we can count on him. But the way we played tonight is the way we play."

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com