Air Force and Utah have had more than their share of close games this season. That’s about where the similarities end.
The 13th-ranked Falcons look to set a new school-record winning streak when they visit the Utes on Tuesday in a Mountain West Conference matchup.
Air Force (17-1, 4-0) is coming off a 58-56 victory over Wyoming on Saturday, winning its 13th straight game on Jacob Burtschi’s layup as the buzzer sounded. The Falcons overcame a tough first half during which they shot just 26.7 percent, and they never led by more than four points after the break.
Burtschi finished with 18 points and six rebounds. Dan Nwaelele, who leads the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game, added 13 points.
“It was a horrible first half, for me and for the whole team,” Burtschi said. “Fortunately, we just hung with it, and in the second half we were able to make some plays.”
It wasn’t exactly the effort Air Force was hoping for after a dismal first half in its previous game against New Mexico last Wednesday. The Falcons trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half of that game and were behind by 15 at halftime before pulling out the 65-57 win.
Since a 78-48 victory over Santa Clara on Dec. 29, the team’s last four wins have been decided by an average margin of 5.5 points.
Despite the recent close calls, Air Force has tied the longest winning streak in school history, set between Dec. 9, 2003-Jan. 31, 2004. The team won its first five conference games that season en route to a 22-7 record—12-2 in the Mountain West.
Air Force is alone atop the conference standings while Utah (5-12) is by itself at the bottom.
While the Falcons managed to come out on the winning end of their recent close games, the Utes (5-12, 0-4) have been frustrated by just the opposite.
Utah has lost six straight—four were by four points or less—to record its longest losing streak since dropping seven straight from Jan. 27-Feb. 10, 1950. Nine of the team’s 12 losses this season have come by six points or fewer.
The Utes are coming off an 86-82 overtime loss to New Mexico on Saturday, the second overtime game in their last four contests.
Johnnie Bryant led the team with 19 points and six assists while Shaun Green added 14 points—all in the second half. Luke Nevill, the team’s leading scorer at 17.2 points per game, tied a season low with nine points.
The Utes had a chance to win in regulation, but missed three shots in the final 13 seconds.
“It’s gotten mental and you’ve got to find ways to break through that,” coach Ray Giacoletti said. “We’ve got to win one of those to get over the hump.”
The Falcons won both meetings last season after losing both in 2004-05.