GAME NOTES: Mountain West Conference action opens up at Clune Arena on Wednesday night, as the Air Force Falcons ring in the New Year, with a showdown against the Utah State Aggies.
Utah State was outstanding during the first two months of the season, finishing up its non-conference slate with 10 wins in 12 outings. The Aggies have not been intimated away from home either, winning both of their true road games at UC Santa Barbara (71-64) and Weber State (77-71). They have been rolling of late with five consecutive victories, including an easy 84-53 blowout of San Diego Christian on Saturday night.
Air Force has gotten off to a much more modest start, as it sports a 6-5 record, including a 5-3 ledger on its home floor. After playing eight straight games at Clune Arena, the Falcons ventured out on the road on Dec. 21 only to fall to UC Davis, 80-74, snapping a three-game winning streak.
These newly-formed conference rivals haven't faced off since 2000. Utah State holds a 9-2 advantage all-time over Air Force.
In one of their best all-around performances of the season, the Aggies outshot San Diego Christian from the field over the weekend, 50 percent to 34.7 percent, and held an astounding 56-17 advantage in the rebounding battle en route to the 31-point victory. Preston Medlin led the way with 17 points on 5- of-10 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line, while Kyle Davis (15 points, 15 rebounds) and Spencer Butterfield (11 points, 13 rebounds) each registered double-doubles.
Utah State has set a trend this season in piecing together great offensive performances, shooting 49.3 percent from the field for 76.3 points per game, good for a +11.8 scoring margin. It is also one of the top rebounding teams in the nation, boasting a +11.8 margin, although it is able to even the playing field somewhat with a disappointing -3.3 turnover margin. With Jarred Shaw (16.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg) suspended indefinitely, Butterfield (14.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Medlin (13.8 ppg, 3.8 apg) have taken over the duties as the go-to scoring options. Kyle Davis has also been impressive, putting up 10.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg and 1.5 bpg all while making 63.5 percent of his field goal tries.
Although Air Force held a one-point lead five minutes into the second half of its most recent game, it lost control of the contest when UC Davis proceeded to rip off a 17-3 run. It shot an impressive 46.8 percent from the field, but it couldn't keep up with the Aggies (.509) and it was handily outscored at the foul line, 21-7. Justin Hammonds and Tre' Coggins were each stellar in defeat with 20 points apiece, with Coggins doing so on 4-of-8 from 3-point range while also dishing out seven assists. Max Yon brought 13 points to the table.
On the season, the Falcons have been rather impressive offensively, shooting 46.6 percent from the field for 73.6 ppg, and more often than not their defensive effort (.430, 70.3 ppg) has been good enough to support them. One of the keys to their success has been their prowess from beyond the arc, as they make 8.0 3-pointers per game at 37.1 percent efficiency. Coggins is the team's best long-range shooter (28-of-64), which has helped him greatly in putting up a team-best 16.6 ppg. Yon (12.9 ppg), Marek Olesinski (12.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Hammonds (10.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg) are also integral pieces to the puzzle.
Air Force is always a tough draw at Clune Arena, and its long-range shooting success has the potential to be a pain in Utah State's side. However, the Aggies have been so impressive this season that a trip into hostile territory isn't likely to shake their psyche.
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