BYU has had a week to recover from its worst loss of the season and regroup toward its pursuit of a fourth consecutive regular season Mountain West title.
A visit from the conference’s worst team might be just as helpful as some rest.
The 17th-ranked Cougars try to bounce back Saturday in Provo with a 10th consecutive win over Air Force, which hasn’t won a league road game in nearly two years.
Five of BYU’s first seven conference wins came by at least 13 points, but the Cougars (22-3, 7-2) found themselves on the losing side last Saturday in Las Vegas.
UNLV built a 29-point first half lead and kept BYU off balance all game, holding it to 38.1 percent shooting - 10.7 percent below its Mountain West-leading average—in the 88-74 defeat.
“They had a great start,” said conference scoring leader Jimmer Fredette (21.4 points per game), who finished with 21 points but missed 11 of his 15 shots. “They put the pressure on us. They built up a huge lead and we could not catch them. They did a good job defending me. They made it tough on me.”
Fredette, who missed two games with strep throat earlier this season, has gone 17 of 51 from the field in BYU’s three losses.
Still battling his illness when the Cougars visited Air Force on Jan. 13, Fredette came off the bench and played only 18 minutes but he wasn’t needed. Jackson Emery had 21 points and BYU held Air Force to 33.3 percent shooting in a 67-49 win, its ninth straight in the series.
The Falcons (8-14, 1-9) scored 18 after halftime, and eight of Jackson’s points came during a 15-2 run to start the second half.
“I was really proud of our composure when Air Force played as well as they did in the first half,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “Jackson was just terrific to start the half to get us going.”
The Cougars are 13-0 when Emery, their second-leading scorer behind Fredette, scores mores than 10.
BYU has won 19 straight games in Provo, while the Falcons are working on a much less impressive streak on the road. Air Force has lost its past 16 contests away from home by an average of 13.9 points, and it’s lost 14 straight league road games since beating Colorado State 61-59 on Feb. 23, 2008.
The Falcons’ two most recent losses have come at home, and their offensive performance Tuesday against Colorado State makes it hard to believe they can keep up with BYU. Air Force shot a season-low 31.1 percent in a 51-47 loss to the Rams.
“I thought we played hard, but in this league, playing hard is not good enough,” coach Jeff Reynolds said. “We had trouble scoring the whole second half. We can make it when we want, but we had open shots and didn’t hit them.”
Leading scorer Grant Parker had 13 points, and the senior forward will almost certainly need to have a big game to keep the Falcons close. Parker missed 10 games earlier this season with a pelvic injury, including the blowout loss to the Cougars.
BYU freshman center Brandon Davies isn’t expected to play Saturday after undergoing an emergency appendectomy last week, and backup point guard Lamont Morgan Jr. is out indefinitely with a knee injury.