Air Force is winning, but it doesn’t look pretty
TODD JACOBSON THE GAZETTE
Air Force junior center Nick Welch’s head was buried in his hands minutes after Air Force played Northern Colorado on Thursday night. The Falcons hadn’t lost to the Bears, it just felt that way.
Seven games into the 2004 season, Air Force has matched last year’s 5-2 start, but that’s about all that feels the same, Welch said.
“Something is missing and we’ve got to find it,” said Welch after Air Force’s 63-54 win over Northern Colorado. “If we go to Georgia Tech and play like this, we are going to get killed…. Everything was just a disappointment.”
Despite its 5-2 record, Air Force’s players have been critical of the offense and defense at varying points this season. They were unhappy after a 26-point win over Alcorn State in the team’s home opener last month, and they were troubled after road losses to Marquette and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Junior forward Antoine Hood called Air Force’s nine-point win over Northern Colorado a “wake-up call.”
But most of all, Air Force is concerned about its future, because the team’s schedule only gets tougher after a nonconference home game against Division III Colorado College on Monday.
Air Force plays No. 4 Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday and Rutgers of the Big East later this month before the Mountain West Conference season begins in January.
“I am glad that we have some wins here that we are not happy with,” first-year coach Chris Mooney said. “One was by 26, and one was by nine, but at the same time I wasn’t happy with those. I think we can do better, and we just need to do better.”
Statistically, little seems different from a year ago. The Falcons are scoring almost the same amount of points (59.6), allowing fewer points (47.4) and fewer turnovers (10.3), and rebounding better (24.6).
Of course, increased expectations have contributed to the concern.
If Air Force hadn’t unfurled its Mountain West Conference championship banner this year and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament last season, no one would be concerned about how the Falcons were winning a year removed from last season’s magic.
They’re winning, but not always convincingly.
“Expectations are higher this year from our fans and our team. It’s a little different than it was,” Hood said. “Last year, we were just happy to win. Everybody’s got to get that hunger and fire back. There is no better time to get it than right now.”
The problems on defense were evident against Northern Colorado, which became the third team to clear 50 points against the Falcons. The Bears shot 51.4 percent from the field, and Mooney was critical of the defensive intensity.
On offense, the problems are clear from a look at the stat sheet. Only Welch and Hood are scoring in double figures, and the offense hasn’t been as balanced as Mooney would like.
Senior guard Tim Keller has struggled and is averaging just 7.6 points.
Welch leads the team with 12.9 points but said he hasn’t been distributing the ball well.
“Collectively as a team we had to realize we have to have something to prove, not be complacent and no one (should) be satisfied,” Hood said.
Welch could miss the Falcons’ game against Colorado College with a mild concussion.
Welch hit his head in Air Force’s win over Northern Colorado. Though he finished the game and a CAT scan that night didn’t reveal any problems, Welch was held out of strenuous exercise at practice Saturday.
A final decision on Welch’s status will be made Monday, trainer Larry Willock said.
“I don’t think he would play long if he does play,” Willock said.
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