Season-wins record within Wildcats' grasp tonight

Mar 22 2013 - 8:59pm

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OGDEN -- No one in America has filled out a CollegeInsider.com Tournament bracket this week -- the tourney is not bracketed -- but the NCAA Tournament could learn at least one thing from its much smaller sibling.

The CIT second round is, you know, actually the second round, unlike the NCAAs, where the majority of contestants in Thursday and Friday's "second round" games were playing their first game of the tourney.

So Weber State and Air Force each have one CollegeInsider.com Tournament win under their belts as they come into tonight's 7 p.m. matchup at the Dee Events Center.

Air Force's warriors flew to Hawaii to dispatch the Rainbow Warriors 69-65 in the first round late on Wednesday night, not long after Weber State finished throttling Big West opponent Cal Poly 85-43.

The Wildcats (27-6) will be playing for the record books tonight -- a win would give them the all-time mark for most wins in a season in school and Big Sky Conference history.

"Just to get to the point where we could tie the school record was a great accomplishment," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. "And if we're able to find a way to win one more, I think it would be something they would remember for the rest of their lives."

WSU is in the postseason for the fifth consecutive year, with, back-to-back National Invitation Tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010, a College Basketball Invitational appearance in 2011 and two straight trips to the CIT in 2012 and 2013. Weber State last went to the NCAA Tournament in 2007.

Air Force (18-13) finished 8-8 in the Mountain West Conference, which ended the season ranked first in the country in RPI rating. Although the league hasn't done well in the NCAA Tournament so far, the Falcons finished sixth in a conference that sent five teams to the tourney for the first time.

Due to an unfortunate injury in the Mountain West Tournament, the Wildcats only have to figure out what to do about half of Air Force's Mike & Mike duo.

Senior guard Michael Lyons, who was named to the all-Mountain West first team and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association District VIII team, suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee playing against UNLV in the conference tourney quarterfinals and is done for the year.

Even without the Mountain West's leading scorer (18.3 points per game), there's plenty for Weber State to worry about against the academy's version of the Princeton offense.

AFA starts four seniors.

"It's a really good basketball team," Rahe said. "They've got a whole bunch of veterans. They're older, a lot of these kids have gone through (Air Force's) prep school, so they've been over there five years.

"We used to play Air Force when I was Colorado State (and) at Utah. The common theme with Air Force is, they're really tough, mentally (and) physically, and they execute as well as anybody in the country."

The Princeton-style offense is a talent equalizer, Rahe said, giving the Falcons a chance to compete against better athletes: The whole is greater than the sum of Air Force's individual players.

"You need about a week (to prepare for it), to be honest with you," he said. "We've had to hurry up and rush it in. ... Once you figure out your game plan and how to go about it, you can't possibly teach your scout team to simulate it. There's no way to simulate how hard they run it and how well they run it in practice. We're going to have a plan in place but you're going to have to learn it on the fly when you get in the game."

Senior forward Michael Fitzgerald had 25 points and nine rebounds to lead Air Force past Hawaii as the Falcons earned the first postseason road win in their 57-season history. Fitzgerald averages 10.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and senior guard Todd Fletcher averages 9.5 points and 3.7 assists per game.

Air Force Academy coach Dave Pilipovich, in his first full season, saw his team claim home wins in Colorado Springs, Colo., this season against ranked league opponents New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State.

The Falcons' aerial assault will test Weber State's defensive philosophy of preventing 3-point attempts. Air Force made 15 treys at Hawaii and is ranked ninth in the country in 3s made per game, averaging 8.6.

AFA led the Mountain West in field goal percentage (.473); meanwhile, the Wildcats lead the nation in field goal percentage (.508), are second in 3-point percentage (.420) and rate among the best in the country at stopping 3-point tries as well as defensive 3-point percentage (.284).

Weber State started out with the best record in the 32-team CIT field. The quarterfinals will be held March 26-27, with matchups and sites announced once the round of 16 is complete.

Senior shooting guard Scott Bamforth could make some history of his own for WSU. Bamforth, who has moved into 11th place in career scoring at Weber State, could pass former teammate Damian Lillard for most 3-pointers in school history with five more.

Bamforth tied his career-high with seven 3s in Wednesday's clobbering of Cal Poly and scored a season-high 23 points.

 

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