Step by step, the Air Force men’s basketball team has had to navigate through the past month unable to celebrate any of its five straight victories without thinking about the fate of San Diego State right in front and Brigham Young right behind in the Mountain West Conference standings. But for the Falcons, today is all about them. There’s nothing they can do about the MWC title; San Diego State wrapped that up Wednesday by beating Wyoming. But if the Falcons can improve to 24-5 and 12-4 in the league by beating Colorado State at 1 p.m. today in Fort Collins, they will have done the next best thing by wrapping up no worse than a share of second place and adding further weight to their NCAA Tournament resumé. BYU hosts New Mexico at 7 p.m., but the Falcons won’t have to worry about the outcome in Provo if they take care of business against CSU (15-13, 4-11). “The table,” coach Jeff Bzdelik said, “has been set for us.” Air Force and BYU essentially have been in lock step since Feb. 8, both winning five in a row. Any misstep by the Cougars could have ensured the Falcons of second place, but Air Force probably has benefited from BYU applying the heat. “It has been good for us,” junior guard Matt McCraw said. “Someone wants something we have, so we’re going to want it more. It keeps us working hard, keeps us focused, knowing we can’t have a mental slip. If we have no slippage and keep executing and keep maximum effort, it’s great BYU is on our heels.” Not only has BYU’s pursuit kept the Falcons on their toes, but the national media probably has helped too. Commentators and “bracketologists” have criticized Air Force’s nonconference schedule and a lack of marquee wins. Air Force players said they feel they haven’t gotten enough credit for their 23 wins, two of which came against Atlantic Coast Conference teams Miami and Georgia Tech. “I try not to pay attention to it, but I do, and a lot of people don’t give us any respect,” junior forward Jacob Burtschi said. “We have to (continue feeling) that way. If we start feeling good, we’ll get our butts kicked by CSU and might lose in the first round of the (MWC) tournament. It’s motivation for us to go out there and take care of business and earn a little bit of respect at the same time.” Though Air Force players might disagree with the critics, the general consensus is the Falcons need at least a win today and a first-round win in the MWC Tournament to be in prime shape for an NCAA atlarge bid. CSU was nearly the spoiler in 2004, upsetting Air Force in the first round of the conference tournament and making the Falcons sweat through Selection Sunday. Though the Rams have struggled most of this conference season, they are capable of another upset. “We don’t get as much respect as other teams in the country and honestly all we can do is go out and do our jobs, give maximum effort, compete every time we step on the court and get better every day,” McCraw said. “We’ve been doing that and it’s allowed us to be in this great situation right now. But (NCAA) talk, we really don’t care about that. It’s just about winning games.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or email@example.com AIR FORCE WOMEN Colorado State (8-18, 2-13) at Air Force (12-4, 3-12) When: 2 p.m., today Where: Clune Arena Series: Colorado State leads 27-6 Rams to watch: Colorado State has three players averaging in double figures, led by Melissa Dennett with 15.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Vanessa Espinoza adds 10.6 points per contest, and Lindsay Thomas has 10.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Falcons to watch: Alecia Steele is the lone scorer averaging in double figures with 10.2 points per games. She also leads the team with 6.3 rebounds per contest. Pamela Findlay is averaging 9.6 points per game, while Letricia Castillo adds 9.3 points per contest. Coaches: CSU is coached by Jen Warden (Colorado, 1993), in her first season at the helm. Air Force is coached by Ardie McInelly, who has a 33-105 record at the academy and is and 110-167 in her 10-year career. TODAY Air Force (23-5, 11-4 MWC) at Colorado State (15-13, 4-11), 1 p.m., 740/560 AM
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