SALT LAKE CITY - No player in the Air Force basketball program possesses more athletic gifts or big game experience than senior guard Antoine Hood. But it’s also true that nobody in the Mountain West Conference can miss a layup or botch a fast break with more flair and style than the player who has won more games in an Air Force uniform than anyone else in the academy’s 50 years.
That paradox in Hood’s game might very well determine whether the Falcons can win enough of their final four regular-season games to secure an NCAA Tournament bid, beginning tonight at Utah. As Air Force’s only senior starter, it is in some ways incumbent on Hood to lift the Falcons with his unique skills, as he did in Wednesday’s victory at TCU. But there’s also a fine line to Hood’s game between aggressive and out-of-control, and now is no time for the latter. “With anybody you’ve got to pick and choose your moments,” Hood said. “When you try to force it too much it doesn’t turn out on the right end. In the flow of the offense, if you see something, you take it. If it doesn’t work out for you kick it to someone else.” Though the Falcons’ system is based on unselfishness and passing instead of star-making, Hood’s ability to create his own shot could prove crucial at this point in the season. Against TCU, Air Force struggled from the 3-point line, making 5 of 20. But with Hood taking the initiative and relentlessly attacking TCU’s defense, it never appeared the Falcons couldn’t score when they needed to. Hood finished with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting while committing just two turnovers, a far more aggressive performance than Air Force’s previous two games when he took a combined 13 shots. It was as though Hood realized the clock was ticking on his Falcons career. “Perhaps as a senior there’s the reality of, hey, you know what, there’s only a few more left here and I want to play my very best,” coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “But only as long as they play within the framework of the team concept and Antoine did that.” Though Hood leads the team with 14.6 points per game, Bzdelik won’t saddle him with the burden of carrying Air Force to the NCAA Tournament. Part of the reason is because Hood is often at his worst when he tries to do it all himself. One example was the end of Air Force’s 62-59 loss at New Mexico, when Hood committed an offensive foul trying to win the game with a layup against two defenders. Or one of his few mistakes against TCU, when Hood attempted a difficult spin move trying to elude a defender on the fast break and clanked the bottom of the rim with his layup. But at this point in the season, with defenses playing tougher and 3-point baskets harder to bury, Air Force might need Hood to continue taking matters into his own hands. “I just try to be consistent,” Hood said, deflecting any suggestion he feels pressure to carry the team. “Every night, whatever my team needs for us to win, to do my job well and come out on top. I was just out there playing. My teammates found me, I found them, and we came out with the intensity and emotion we need to have from here on out to win games.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or firstname.lastname@example.org TODAY Air Force (20-5, 8-4 MWC) at Utah (12-11, 5-7), 7 p.m., 740/560 AM