BYU Earns MWC Title With Win At No. 20 Air Force

Senior co-captain Austin Ainge helped BYU win at least a share of the MWC title with a win at No. 20 Air Force Tuesday night. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

USAFA -- The Cougars took care of business Tuesday night on the road, securing at least a share of the Mountain West Conference regular-season title and snapping Air Force's 30-game home winning streak with a 62-58 win over the No. 20 Falcons. The victory gives BYU (22-7, 12-3) its first league title since 2002-03 and guarantees the Cougars the No. 1 seed in next week's MWC Tournament.

"This was definitely a team victory," said BYU head coach Dave Rose. "From top to bottom, these guys have all contributed to a piece of a conference championship. This team has a great competitive spirit. We sure needed all of it from everybody tonight because it was a heck of a game."

The low-scoring affair was truly a team effort for BYU as four Cougars scored in double figures led by Austin Ainge's 14 points. Ainge was followed by Keena Young with 12 points, Jimmy Balderson with 11 and Trent Plaisted with 10. Young and Ainge also shared high-rebounding honors with six apiece while Ainge dished out a game-high five assists.

"It's unbelievable," said Ainge. "Our locker room is as excited as I've ever seen it. It feels so great. I had this one personally circled to win just because of the embarrassing losses we've had here in the past, so it feels amazing. There were so many big plays by so many guys. I just can't tell you how excited and happy we are."

Air Force was led by Tim Anderson and Jacob Burtschi with 15 points each. Burtschi was one of five Falcons, including four starters, honored in Air Force's Senior Night celebration. The Cougars outshot the Falcons .511 to .455 and outrebounded them 29-25.

The Cougars struck first with a three-pointer from Balderson and continued to maintain a slim advantage through the first four minutes, leading 7-4 after a layin from Young at the 16:08 mark. BYU made its first four shots to overcome three early turnovers and avoid the early deficit that has dogged the Cougars at Air Force the last three seasons.

Ainge drained BYU's second three-pointer of the night to put the Cougars up 10-6 and then made his second at the 11:21 mark to tie the school record of 214 three-pointers made in a season set in 1992. However, after starting 3-for-11 from the field, the Falcons responded by making their next five shots to go on an 11-3 run and take a 17-13 lead.

Plaisted ended the 3:42 BYU scoring drought with a layin at the 7:39 mark, but Air Force responded to push the advantage back to four points at 19-15. Mike Rose then set the BYU school record as he drained a three-pointer to give the Cougars 215 long-range makes for the year. However, the Falcon push continued as Air Force scored seven straight points as part of its 18-5 run to go up 26-18 with 4:22 left in the half.

But the Cougars responded with a 12-3 run of their own thanks in part to back-to-back three-pointers from Ainge and an assist to Sam Burgess, who put in the layin on the fastbreak to give BYU a 30-29 lead. The team teams battled it out in the final 90 seconds but it was Air Force who came out on top as the Falcons were able to convert a three-point play after two offensive rebounds to take a 32-30 lead into the locker room.

After the Falcons drained two free throws to open the second half, Lee Cummard scored his first bucket of the game. Ainge followed with a steal on the ensuing defensive possession and then hit a shot at the other end to tie the game at 34-34. However, after the two teams traded buckets, the Falcons began to run away with a 13-2 spurt to take a 49-38 lead as BYU struggled to get a stop on the defensive end, allowing Air Force to open the half 6-for-6 from the field.

Balderson finally stopped the bleeding with a three-point make followed by two Falcon misses and a layin from Jonathan Tavernari to cut the lead to six points at 49-43. Tavernari then added to the Cougar run with a three-pointer to make it eight straight BYU points and a 49-46 Falcon lead. Air Force finally scored, but Plaisted drained two free throws in response. Young then made it a 12-2 Cougar run with a layin to get BYU back to within one point at 50-51 with just under eight minutes to play.

The Cougars then got the break they needed with an AFA turnover and headed downcourt looking to take the lead. Young obliged with a fadeaway jumper to give BYU its first lead since late in the first half at 52-51. Nick Welch gave the Falcons back the lead with two free throws on the next possession, but the fight was on as both teams prepared to battle to the end.

Young took over with two more buckets, but just when it looked like BYU had the momentum, Air Force's Jacob Burtschi stepped back with ice in his veins and drained a three-pointer to put his team up 58-56 with 4:50 left to play.

Plaisted tied things up with a great post look and then drained two free throws after a defensive stop to retake the lead at 60-58. BYU's good fortunes continued as Air Force missed its first free throw in 10 attempts on the front end of a one-and-one, but Ainge was whistled for an offensive foul on the other end as the Cougars saw their chance to put the game away late slip away.

As the clock ticked towards the one-minute mark, Young secured a rebound and then Balderson was fouled, giving him a one-and-one opportunity with 1:00 left to play and his team up 60-58. Balderson made the first but saw the second roll off the rim only to watch Young fly in to secure the offensive rebound and reset the shot clock for BYU. However, the Cougars couldn't get anything out of the possession, giving the ball back to Air Force with 29.5 seconds left and trailing by three points.

But this time it was the Cougars celebrating as Burtschi dribbled the ball off his thigh and out of bounds, turning it back over to BYU with 21.7 seconds left to play. The Cougars never looked back as they secured the 62-58 win.

BYU will conclude the regular season Saturday hosting in-state rival Utah at 5:30 p.m. in the Marriott Center. The Cougars can win their first outright conference title since 1987-88 with a win.

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Official Basketball Box Score -- GAME TOTALS -- FINAL STATISTICS

BYU vs No. 20 Air Force Falcons

2/27/07 7:05 p.m. at USAFA, Colo. (Clune Arena)

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VISITORS: BYU 22-7, 12-3 MWC

TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS

## Player Name FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN

03 YOUNG, Keena........ f 6-11 0-0 0-1 2 4 6 3 12 3 2 0 0 31

44 PLAISTED, Trent..... c 3-6 0-0 4-5 1 4 5 1 10 0 1 3 1 36

13 AINGE, Austin....... g 5-9 4-6 0-0 1 5 6 3 14 5 6 0 2 31

23 BALDERSON, Jimmy.... g 4-8 2-2 1-4 4 1 5 1 11 0 2 0 0 26

30 CUMMARD, Lee........ g 2-4 0-2 1-2 0 0 0 3 5 2 0 1 1 19

02 ROSE, Mike.......... 1-1 1-1 0-0 0 3 3 2 3 0 0 0 0 22

20 BURGESS, Sam........ 1-3 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 14

24 MURDOCK, Ben........ 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 2 9

45 TAVERNARI, Jonathan. 2-5 1-3 0-0 0 3 3 2 5 0 2 0 0 12

TEAM................ 1 1 1

Totals.............. 24-47 8-14 6-12 9 20 29 18 62 11 14 4 6 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 12-23 52.2% 2nd Half: 12-24 50.0% Game: 51.1% DEADB

3-Pt. FG% 1st Half: 6-7 85.7% 2nd Half: 2-7 28.6% Game: 57.1% REBS

F Throw % 1st Half: 0-2 0.0% 2nd Half: 6-10 60.0% Game: 50.0% 2

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HOME TEAM: No. 20 Air Force Falcons 23-7, 10-6 MWC

TOT-FG 3-PT REBOUNDS

## Player Name FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN

21 BURTSCHI, Jacob..... f 6-11 1-4 2-3 1 3 4 4 15 1 2 0 4 32

34 NWAELELE, Dan....... f 4-12 2-5 4-5 0 4 4 0 14 4 2 0 1 37

45 WELCH, Nick......... c 1-2 0-1 2-2 0 0 0 2 4 4 3 0 0 26

05 McCRAW, Matt........ g 1-5 0-3 0-0 0 4 4 1 2 2 2 0 1 31

12 ANDERSON, Tim....... g 5-9 3-4 2-4 3 1 4 4 15 1 1 1 1 33

24 TEETS, Ryan......... 1-3 1-1 0-0 0 1 1 0 3 0 1 0 0 11

42 JOHNSON, Anwar...... 2-2 0-0 1-1 1 0 1 5 5 0 1 0 1 16

54 FRYE, John.......... 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 4 5 2 0 1 1 0 0 14

TEAM................ 1 1 2

Totals.............. 20-44 7-18 11-15 7 18 25 18 58 13 13 1 8 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 12-24 50.0% 2nd Half: 8-20 40.0% Game: 45.5% DEADB

3-Pt. FG% 1st Half: 3-7 42.9% 2nd Half: 4-11 36.4% Game: 38.9% REBS

F Throw % 1st Half: 5-8 62.5% 2nd Half: 6-7 85.7% Game: 73.3% 1

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Officials: Randy McCall, Bob Staffen, Ruben Ramos

Technical fouls: BYU-None. No. 20 Air Force Falcons-None.

Attendance: 6146

Score by Periods 1st 2nd Total

BYU........................... 30 32 - 62

No. 20 Air Force Falcons...... 32 26 - 58

ID-480997

Points in the paint-BY 24,AFA 22. Points off turnovers-BY 14,AFA 10.

2nd chance points-BY 12,AFA 3. Fast break points-BY 7,AFA 0.

Bench points-BY 10,AFA 8. Score tied-5 times. Lead changes-10 times.

Tags: Results