Friday, March 24, 2023

MBB-FBS: Air Force Falcons (12-11) at Nevada Wolfpack (17-6)

Following a tremendous 75-66 victory over #22 San Diego State to move to 17-6 overall and 7-3 in Mountain West play this season, the University of Nevada Men’s Basketball team will once again put their unblemished record on the line this Friday evening as they welcome Air Force to the Lawlor Events Center, with the Pack seeking to move to 12-0 at home this season.

Friday night’s game will be sponsored by Renown Health, and pink bandanas will be distributed to fans. Pizzava will be available to the first 300 students to enter the building, and the Nevada Women’s Soccer team will be signing autographs on the concourse before the game, in addition to receiving a recognition during the game. For the second straight game, there will be a cross-court putt for $10,000 at halftime, and NNSR will also be doing a halftime performance. 

Nevada won the previous matchup between the two squads this season, earning a 75-69 victory over the Falcons in Colorado Springs on New Year’s Eve. 

Senior guard Jarod Lucas had a career night in the first contest against Air Force, dropping a career-high 28 points on 7-10 shooting from the field and 3-5 from behind the arc. 

Will Baker also had a solid outing in the first tilt between the two squads, scoring 16 points on 7-13 shooting from the field, in addition to pulling down eight rebounds. 

Nevada is now coming off of one of their most impressive wins in recent history: an impressive victory over then-conference-leading Aztecs. 

Lucas was outstanding throughout the game, scoring 26 points on a highly efficient 9-14 shooting from the field. He also pulled down four rebounds, tallied one steal, and finished the contest with a game-high plus/minus of +11 in 38 minutes of playing time.

Lucas has now reached double figures in scoring in an unbelievable 21 straight games, totaling22 of 23 contests this season. After the 26-point performance, he ranks second overall in the Mountain West in total points scored (397) and third in points per game (17.3). Lucas also ranks second in made 3-pointers (60) and fifth in free throw percentage (84.5%). 

Baker had a dominant performance against the Aztecs, pouring in 19 points on 6-10 shooting from the field and 7-7 at the free throw line, while also pulling down a game-high nine rebounds.

Baker has been immaculate at the Lawlor Events Center this season, as he is averaging 17.6 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 42.9 percent from behind the arc, and 83.7 percent at the free throw line in home games this season. 

Baker currently ranks third overall in the Mountain West in free throw percentage (85.3%) and 15th in points per game (13.4).

Kenan Blackshear had a sensational game in the win over San Diego State, scoring 18 points on 7-14 shooting from the field, in addition to dishing out a game-high seven assists and recording two steals. 

Blackshear has now scored in double figures in 14 straight games and in 20 of 23 games this season for the Pack. He has also dished out at least three assists in all but two games for Nevada.

Blackshear continues to rank in the top-15 of the conference in a multitude of individual statistical categories. He is currently first in the league in total assists (109), third in assists per game (4.7), fourth in steals per game (1.8), seventh in free throw percentage (81.0%), and tenth in points per game (15.0). 

Junior forward Tré Coleman had another stellar outing on both ends of the floor for Nevada against the Aztecs. Coleman scored 11 points on 3-6 shooting from behind the arc in the second half alone, while also recording a game-high three blocks and tallying two steals.

Freshman forward Darrion Williams got into foul trouble early against San Diego State; but, he still managed to pull down four rebounds during the game. Williams continues to lead the team in rebounding, and he currently ranks sixth in the league in rebounds per game (7.2). Williams has also maintained his solid defensive play, as he is sixth in the conference in steals per game this season (1.5).

As a team, Nevada had one of their most efficient offensive performances of the season, shooting 50 percent from the field for the game and matching a season-best by only turning the ball over six times. 

Nevada is currently tied for first in the conference in fewest turnovers this season (246) and second in turnover margin (2.35). 

Defensively, the Pack ranks in the top-five of the conference in a number of statistical categories. Nevada is third in opponent field goal percentage (41.6%), fourth in turnovers forced (300), fourth in steals per game (6.4), fifth in opponent 3-point field goal percentage, and fifth in defensive rebounding (26.3 per game). 

Nevada has maintained their exceptional shooting at the free throw line, as they currently lead the conference and rank fifth in the entire country in free throw percentage this season (79.4%).

Nevada will look to win their second consecutive victory Tuesday night against a methodical and disciplined Air Force team that is seeking to snap a four-game losing streak.

Scouting Air Force

Air Force enters Friday night’s matchup with an overall record of 12-11 and a conference mark of 3-7; and, they have dropped their previous four games. The Falcons have been one of the better defensive teams in the Mountain West this season, as they rank third in the league in opponent points per game, limiting opposing teams to just 65.7 points per contest.

Air Force has been particularly good at defending the 3-point line, as they are holding their opponents to a paltry 28.6 percent shooting from deep, the second-best mark in the Mountain West.

Individually, Air Force has eight different players averaging at least 5.1 points per game. Sophomore guard Jake Heidbreder has led the way for the Falcons, averaging an impressive 13.8 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 36.0 percent from behind the arc. 

6’7″ freshman guard Rytis Petraitis is also having a strong season for Air Force, as he is averaging 10.4 points per game on an outstanding 52.3 percent shooting from the field and 36.1 percent from behind the arc. Petraitis is also averaging a team-high 5.7 rebounds per game. 

The Falcons have a multitude of offensive options outside of the Heidbreder and Petraitis duo, as numerous players have stepped up in different games throughout the season.

Air Force will look to slow down the pace of the game and create quality opportunities from behind the arc.

Nevada will need to get off to a fast start and dominate the paint against an undersized Air Force team in order to achieve their 18th victory of the season and eighth in Mountain West play.

Series History
Nevada and Air Force have faced off 19 times on the court throughout history, with the Pack holding a 16-3 advantage all-time against the Falcons.

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