WBB Preview: Trip To Air Force Presents Winnable Game To Aggies
5 min read

WBB Preview: Trip To Air Force Presents Winnable Game To Aggies

Fighting to keep itself out of last place in the MWC standings, Utah State draws a winnable matinee at Air Force today. WBB Preview:
WBB Preview: Trip To Air Force Presents Winnable Game To Aggies
Photo via Utah State Athletics

Hovering half a game above last place in the Mountain West, Utah State could solidify its position in the penultimate spot in the conference standings on Wednesday morning at Air Force, which is 6-10 and ninth in the same table. While nothing is official until the season ends, a win in Colorado Springs would provide a huge boost to Utah State's chances of avoiding another last-place finish, something this group would be very keen on doing after three such seasons in the last four years.

San Jose State, the current owner of the final spot, will host Wyoming and Colorado State before completing its season on the road at Nevada. Both the Pokes and Rams are very good teams. Nevada has faltered at times this season, including a 65-62 loss to Utah State, but is an overall solid team that beat San Jose State 64-57 earlier this year.

With the way the Spartans have been playing, poor enough to garner a 13-game losing streak, it is unlikely that the Spartans will pick up any of those games. But if they do, the Aggies could see their tenuous hold on the spot vanish.

If Utah State wants to bolster against that, Air Force would be a good candidate to pursue. The Falcons are 13-16 (6-10) and, along with the Aggies and Spartans, are one of the only three teams in the Mountain West that cannot end the season with a winning conference record. The Falcons have some talented athletes and capable scorers, but that hasn’t translated to winning games.

The last time the teams met, the Falcons withstood an Aggie comeback in Logan as Utah State fell 78-72. The Aggies trailed by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter but fought back, only to come up short in the waning minutes. Macy Smith scored her season high, which still stands at 16 points, while Air Force’s top scorer, Milahnie Perry, exceeded even her high expectations, scoring 24 points in the endeavor.

Players To Know

Dasha Macmillan: Macmillan is a six-footer from Colleyville, Texas who has seen steady improvement over her four-year career at Air Force. She's averaging 7.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game this season, all of which the best figures of her time with the Falcons.

What makes her a threat to Utah State can be summed up by her previous performance. When she came to Logan, she cruised by her average and put 12 points on the Aggies, adding three rebounds and an assist as well. Despite a modest scoring average, Macmillan can be explosive, especially against teams that struggle to defend the post.

Though her 12-point game at Utah State was good, it was far from her best, as she logged a season-high 20 points at San Diego State just two games ago, to go with a 19-point outing against UNLV and 15 against Northern Colorado. She's shooting 39.0 percent from the field this year.

Keelie O’Hollaren: Keelie O’Hollaren is the most dangerous three-point threat the Falcons have. The freshman is a 35.7 percent shooter from deep and has gone 6 of 8 in her last two games, logging 10 double-digit scoring games on the year (and five in MWC play).

She is averaging 8.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and a steal per game on the year. Like Macmillan, she played above her averages against Utah State last time, notching 10 points and three rebounds in just under 18 minutes.

From beyond the arc, her numbers are only growing more impressive. She’s made 52 three-pointers on the year, 14 more than the next Falcon in line – Perry, who has 38 – and is converting 1.8 per game, tied with Tess Barnes of Wyoming, Kylee Fox of Fresno State and Sydni Summers for ninth in the conference. It's a crowded field, but it's good company to keep.

Milahnie Perry: Perry is the pride of the women’s hoops program at the Academy. She's scoring a team-high of 16.5 points per game, good for the third-highest scoring average in the conference and a fraction of a point better than Cheyenne Stubbs, her matchup for this game and a player with whom Perry has much in common.

Perry is a sophomore with seemingly unstoppable scoring abilities. She's reliably good for double-figure outputs, but she's bolstered that with a handful of huge nights from the field, putting up 30 points in a loss to Nevada, 24 in wins over SJSU and Utah State, 28 against San Diego State and 27 back in non-conference play against Weber State.

Her overall shooting percentage (39.4 percent) leaves a bit to be desired, but she's a dangerous 35.6 percent shooter from deep, and she's more than willing to pitch in elsewhere, averaging 2.7 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.

Stats To Know

Steal Rate: Once again, turnovers will be a focus coming into this game. Air Force has a particular propensity to take the ball away, which is far from good news for the turnover-prone Aggies. The Falcons average 10.6 steals a game and tout a steal rate of 13.1 percent, which ranks No. 13 in the nation. It’s a bit of a blink-and-the-ball-is-gone type of defense, and it will be meeting an offense that has been all too willing to give it away in the first place. The Aggies give the ball away 18.7 times per game, holding a turnover rate of 23.5 percent.

For what it's worth, Utah State handled that pressure relatively well when it last faced the Falcons, limiting itself to 15 turnovers and allowing only seven steals. But the fact remains, the Falcons are experts at pickpocketing teams. Utah State may have gotten away with a nice performance on that front last game, but it doesn’t mean it can do it again.

Three-Point Shooting %: Largely riding the wake from O’Hollaren and her shooting, the Falcons have become very accurate from long-range. They launch a robust volume of threes and they hit more than enough of them, shooting 30.8 percent and earning 30.5 percent of their points from over the horizon.

O’Hollaren is certainly the most dangerous shooter, but she is not alone in her long-range efforts. Perry, Madison Smith and Macmillan are all capable of scoring from deep as well, and when the Falcons get hot, it can be very difficult to stop them. They have enough weapons on the perimeter that a defense can be spread thin trying to stop them all.

Rebounding Rate: Perhaps the most glaring weakness for Air Force is on the glass, which makes sense given its lack of size. The Falcons struggle to recover missed shots on both sides of the court, claiming an offensive rebound rate of 28.7 percent (250th) and a defensive rebound rate of 65.9 percent (285th).

Utah State, despite having something of a logjam in the frontcourt, hasn’t managed to establish any consistency in the post, and is led in rebounding by Stubbs, the crafty 5-5 guard. Samiana Suguturaga and Bridget Mullings have been reliable on the glass and other players have shown flashes of promise, but overall, the team has struggled even worse than the Falcons. For their part, the Aggies have an offensive rebound rate of 27.7 percent and a defensive rebound rate of 64.8 percent.

Utah State doesn’t seem poised to strike at the underbelly of Air Force, but the opportunity is there. If it can take it, this matchup could quickly open up.

Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.