Cowboys Shoot Down Falcons, 67-62

March 8, 2007

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik refused to make a case for an NCAA tournament bid Thursday after his players failed to do their part.

"The only thing that matters is what the committee decides," Bzdelik said after the Falcons' 67-62 quarterfinal loss to Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference tournament.

"We put ourselves in this position. We're at their mercy."

His players were holding out hope after the academy's once-solid designs on a run through March Madness took a serious blow at the hands of Brad Jones, who scored 29, and Brandon Ewing, who added 19.

The Falcons (23-8) have gone 6-7 after a 17-1 start and a rise in the rankings to a school-best 13th and many doubt the selection committee will take a team that's lost four in a row.

"Well, you shouldn't look at the last couple of games," pleaded senior Jacob Burtschi. "I mean, it's been rough. But there's a lot of teams that go through a couple rough times during the year. You got to look at the big picture. We lost four straight. Florida lost three straight. I think we've shown we can hang with almost anybody.

"We had a chance to take it out of the committee's hands and do it ourselves. Now we're back in the same place we were last year."

Sweating through Selection Sunday.

This precarious position seemed far-fetched a month ago, when the Falcons seemed like a lock for No. 4 seed, which would have given them a prime opportunity for the school's first-ever NCAA tournament win.

Now, they'll be very lucky to even get invited, like so much other first-round fodder.

Burtschi said the Falcons' RPI was still good, their strength of schedule better than ever. Like many of his teammates, he pointed to early wins over the likes of Wake Forest and Stanford before the rigors of the service academy set in and sent the Falcons on their annual spring swoon.

"Our resume speaks for itself," senior Nick Welch said. "We've proven to the country we're a good team. We were nationally ranked all year. We had a little slump. The Mountain West is the best it's ever been."

Amen to that, said Wyoming coach Steve McClain, who, unlike Bzdelik, wasn't shy about fighting for the Falcons.

"I don't think there's any question on that question. Air Force should be in the tournament. Will be in the tournament," McClain said. "I don't debate that. You have to look at their overall (season). I go back to what I said, somebody out there needs to say we got a pretty darn good league here is what we got."

Jones and Ewing, who had missed the last game between the schools after getting suspended for fighting at New Mexico, led the way as the Cowboys (17-14) trailed just once, at 21-20, in advancing to face top-seeded BYU in the semifinals Friday night.

Ewing's 3-pointer gave Wyoming a 52-47 lead with five minutes left and was sandwiched between four errant free throws by Burtschi.

The Falcons, who got 16 points from Andrew Henke, 15 from Burtschi and 13 from Tim Anderson, were just 18-of-32 from the stripe, missing 10 free throws over the final 5:23 as they were bounced from the first round of the tournament for the eighth straight season.

The Cowboys sank 22 of their 27 free throws and Jones was 12-for-15 and hit all six of his free throws in the final two minutes.