Air Force (7-2) at UC Riverside (3-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 22, 4 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: SRC Arena (7,000) -- Moscow, Idaho. Television: None. Home Record: Air Force 5-1, UC Riverside 3-1. Away Record: Air Force 1-1, UC Riverside 0-5. Neutral Record: Air Force 1-0, UC Riverside, 0-2. Conference Record: Air Force 0-0, UC Riverside 0-0. Series Record: First- ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Air Force Falcons will try to continue their strong start to the season on Saturday afternoon when they pay a visit to struggling UC Riverside at SRC Arena.
Air Force is off to an impressive 7-2 start and has lost just one time on its home floor. The Falcons bounced back from their first home loss on Dec. 8, as Michael Lyons scored a game-high 26 points to power them past Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 65-49.
It was the second time in three games that the Falcons had held an opponent below 50 points.
UC Riverside, meanwhile, bounced back from last Saturday's loss to USC with a 91-62 throttling of Whittier College on Tuesday. Davin Guinn led five Highlanders (3-8) in double figures with a career-high 16 points to go along with 11 rebounds for the first double-double of his UCR career. Josh Fox, Chris Harriel and Steven Jones each chipped in with 14 points, while Chris Patton added 12.
Despite the outburst over an overwhelmed Poets team, offensive efficiency has not been a strength of the Highlanders. UC Riverside is scoring just 58.4 points per game, while shooting at a less-than-stellar 39.1 percent from the field. Surprisingly the team's defensive efforts have been above average, limiting them to 66.4 points per game on just 41.4 percent shooting. UC Riverside has also been able to control the boards regularly with a +5.9 rebounding margin. Scoring depth isn't vast, as Harriel (11.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Fox (9.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) are the only players averaging double figures. Harriel could stand to be more selective with his shots though, as he is connecting on just 34.2 percent from the field this season. Patton (9.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Robert Smith (8.4 ppg) have each shown the ability to score effectively, but have largely settled into supporting roles.
In the win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Air Force fell behind 12-0, but used an 18-0 run early in the second half to take control of the contest. Mike Fitzgerald scored 13 points for the Falcons, while Taylor Broekhuis pulled down a team-high seven rebounds. Marek Olesinski tied his career-high with six boards, and Todd Fletcher posted game-highs of five assists and four steals. For a team that historically likes to keep the score low, Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich, who is in his first full season, has his group focusing on moving the ball at a high tempo and that has resulted in an unlikely 78.7 ppg. Lyons is generating 20.3 ppg and Fletcher another 10.7 ppg as the pair have made good on a combined 40 3-pointers through nine games. The team as a whole is shooting 39.1 percent from beyond the arc and 49.8 percent from the field overall.
Pilipovich has Air Force believing it can beat just about anyone. It may run into some trouble, though, on Saturday against a Highlanders team that plays very well at the defensive end. Expect a low-scoring affair, and one that ends in a UCR victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UC Riverside 68, Air Force 62
12/22 10:45:40 ET