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March 8, 2017

Dave Pilipovich

Hayden Graham

Jacob Van

Las Vegas, Nevada

Air Force - 83 Wyoming - 68

COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: What a start. We had, I believe, a 25-0 start. I joked with our staff and I said I would coach the first 25 points of the game and then they could take it from there. So I think we got off to a good start.

All joking aside. We didn't have the last part of our season, for that being said, our season going the way we wanted it to. But these guys refocused and reenergized, and we had a really good session on Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday. For them to come out with that intensity and effort and enthusiasm to start the game, it's a credit. That's who our cadet-athletes are at the Academy, and I'm so proud of them. And we get to live for another day.

Q. The fast start, did anything change? Did you do anything different? Just hit shots? What was the biggest difference for the fast start?
HAYDEN GRAHAM: Against Boise, we kind of had -- we let too many plays offensively, we weren't paying attention on the defensive end of the ball, as much as we should have. We emphasized it throughout practice Sunday and Monday and leading up to this game; defense was an emphasis for us. We had to jump out, talk more, communicate. We told everybody our defense would lead to our offense and that's what changed everything.

Q. They closed within 16. What was the mood and how much tension was there?
JACOB VAN: You know, at halftime we wrote on the board, 0-0 second half. We didn't act like we had a 20-point lead starting the second half. We had to play our game continuing on from the first half.

Q. How important was the free throw line in maintaining that lead?
HAYDEN GRAHAM: It was huge. A lot of games that we've lost, close games, we haven't shot the ball well from the free throw line. Tonight I don't know what we shot from the free throw line. That wins games for you. I'm not historically a free throw shooter and I ended up making my free throws today. JV over here was good.

Q. You haven't won away from Clune this year. To do it now, what does that mean to you?
JACOB VAN: I think it means everything. If we had to win one game away from Clune I'd want it to be this one because it builds momentum going into the next one. And we have the confidence now, and we're not looking behind us, we're looking ahead of us.

Q. Now CSU, a team you guys have never beat. You only had one shot at them in the regular season and now you get them again.
HAYDEN GRAHAM: We're excited about it. If there was momentum to be given to a team and we have it, we feel good about ourselves. CSU, we've only played them once. I haven't beat them at the Academy. Everybody is going to be super excited about this game. And we'll come out, try to do the same thing we did today and take care of business.

Q. The first shot of the game, Scottie maybe a foot inside the three-point line, he banks it in. Could you tell fortune was on your side?
JACOB VAN: Yeah, we had a couple of shots like that. At the same time, we're not going to rely on those shots. We're relying on our defense, we're relying on getting to the basket. It always helps when shots like that are going in, but we felt the confidence how we played on the defensive end.

Q. With that hot start, have you guys ever had anything like that in a game you've been in?
HAYDEN GRAHAM: Yeah, so actually earlier this year against Utah State I think we had a 15-0 start. We talked about how impressive that was. It's basketball, people score. I got asked after the game, did you ever think you'd top that? Absolutely not. But 25-0, came out and just intense. And I think we kind of shocked some people a little bit, the way we came out and started playing.

Q. What is it about the Rams that in four years you haven't been able to get over that hump and why now?
HAYDEN GRAHAM: They're a good team. They're a good basketball team. They're aggressive. They play full speed all the time. They're a tough team. Over the years we haven't been able to -- they've had our number. This year we've kind of made some changes that we beat teams we don't usually beat, San Diego State, Utah State at home. And this year it's been up and down, but this is the year to make some stuff happen. And I don't want to be done.

Q. I'm just wondering how you guys prepare to stop a scorer like Gian Clavell. Do you have to change anything defensively?
JACOB VAN: We're going to have to key in on him. He's the player of the year. He knows how to get his points. If we come out with this kind of intensity, like we did against Wyoming, I think we'll have a chance and we'll really focus in on him. But rely on our teammates and just really work to get stops.

Q. The last time you guys played was in Fort Collins. Eustachy picked up his 500th career win. The place was rocking. Do you feel like playing in a neutral site gives you a little bit of an advantage?
COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: He's not going for 600 tomorrow, is he? We're okay then.

HAYDEN GRAHAM: Neutral sites are -- honestly, I don't care where we're playing. We happen to be in Las Vegas for the conference tournament. And that's where we get the matchup. Tomorrow, 6:30, we get to play Colorado State and get a chance to beat them.

Q. You guys have been the opening round team before. This year of the Mountain West top teams look vulnerable at times against anybody. Everyone is talking about this year is kind of wide open and the parity of the league. Does that make a team in the opening round enter it thinking differently, with a different mindset or is it the same as it's been in the past?
JACOB VAN: Definitely. We know we can beat any team. We've competed with everyone. Honestly, winning this game is going to give us the momentum and confidence going into tomorrow. There's a lot of positives playing in this game and winning and coming out with such a good start. We're excited and we know we can compete with anyone in the league for sure.

Q. You've had 72 points in three games in this building. First of all, do you regret not transferring to UNLV? Secondly, this is the first time you've won one of those games.
JACOB VAN: I'll take a win anytime. We've been close I think the last two times we played UNLV, five overtimes, couldn't get the win. It feels good to get a win. It feels good to get that confidence and really know we have the momentum now. It's exciting.

Q. Same thing I asked the guys, is there a different mindset? Every year the Mountain West has been a little bit different. This year sort of everyone agreed that parity and kind of had a wide open field to it. Did you approach this tournament thinking there was more of a chance coming out of an opening round?
COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: We did. As we started this journey back in August, we thought maybe our numbers would be different, to where we're at now, as far as wins and losses. And for whatever reason they haven't. But we knew we had an opportunity to beat a San Diego State and Fresno State and play some good games during the course of a year. Utah State beats Nevada. Fresno beats Nevada twice. There's not a team left in the field that can't win on Saturday. And we thought that.

And we talked to our players, and it's a credit to them because we didn't finish the right way on Saturday. Nothing against Boise State, they were very good that day. But we didn't think we played Air Force basketball. We wanted to prove, we had one more opportunity, we were only given 40 more minutes, and can do that, and I thought our players did. And their preparation was unbelievable for this.

Now there's eight left. We've got Colorado State that we haven't beat in a while. It's an opportunity for us to gain another victory. Troy Garner said we've been 3-17 in Mountain West conference games. This group has won two of them. That's something about them. We beat New Mexico two years ago and now we won this game.

I don't think there's been an Air Force team that has competed in a Mountain West semifinal. We're 40 minutes away from being 40 minutes away. We have a lot of things to play for. There's a lot of grit. There's a lot of pride in these young men. As we said in the locker room, our journey to this point, our GPS got screwed up a little bit, we didn't go the right way. But we had our third season and we're 1-0 right now, we feel pretty good about ourselves.

Q. Second half, they got within 16. I saw the game against Fresno State a couple of years ago. Was that going through your head?
COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: The clock was going extremely slow in the second half. I'll say that. And there's been some games during the course of this year where no lead was safe, as you've seen on TV.

But we told our players to continue to play with aggression, continue to take care of the basketball, continue to share the ball. And let's be gritty on the defensive end of. There was a play at the end, with about a minute left in the game, and we're up, our margin of -- at that time -- we turned it over and Trevor Lyons hustles down the end of the court and steals the ball back. A player can give up on that, because if they score, you're still up 12 or 13. But that showed what kind of character our team has.

And we were extremely fortunate to manage the second half. That's a good Wyoming team. They had us down I think 25-plus in the games this year. I think we were down 29 at Laramie, and 20-something at home. For us to flip it, that's a 50-point flip, for us to start 25-0. Again, that's a credit to the young men and their preparation and execution early on.

Q. Scottie got a big three.
COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: Big three, and our guys on the bench are saying he's a shooter. That's one coaches say, No, no, no. Great shot. He made it.

And Pervis Louder, we called his number, he didn't come in the game the first half, second half, first possession, he makes a three, gets a drive and scores. Everybody who played contributed to our victory.

And our scout team, our guys who did play today were extremely good on Monday and Tuesday.

Q. As you mentioned the first two games Wyoming had big leads, but you came back. Did that help coming into this one?
COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: It did. We showed that in our film preparation why they extended the lead to that considerable amount, but why we were able to close the gap. We really focused on that. But all our energy had to be on the defensive end. If we didn't get stops today we wouldn't be up here smiling. That was a credit to our players today. No one has called us to put out a defensive clinic tape yet this year. For us to do that today, we were pretty good.

Q. What did you do defensively, did you do anything different?
COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: We played more man. We started the game man, we switched one through four, and we stayed aggressive on the switches. We were there on the catch, we contested and we didn't give up any second opportunities. And that was big for us.

The third thing was we controlled the ball, we managed to not turn the ball over, 6 turnovers in each half, and that was pretty big for us.

Q. You played a lot of man today. Are you going to go with a similar approach against CSU?
COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: Wow, we talked about it. We normally don't plan ahead. But we talked about some things coming up for the next game if we were fortunate to do that. I can't say right now. I'm not sure. We're going to think about it.

Q. Facing a scorer like Clavell, just typically do you adjust for a guy like him?
COACH DAVE PILIPOVICH: He is so talented. He can score different ways. He can shoot it so deep. He plays with unbelievable passion for the game. We may try to find him in the hotel tonight and lock him down a little bit and keep him there until Friday so he doesn't show up tomorrow.

In all seriousness, our effort has to be on him. And then when those guys shoot it and miss it, who gets it? Omogbo. He's an unbelievable player, he's so confident to gain offensive rebounds, and kick it to his teammates. It's going to be a big challenge.

They're second in our league to the last game of the year, they've won 20 games. They've done some incredible things. They're a really good team. I think they're an NCAA tournament team. We're going to have to be very good tomorrow to overcome some of the things they do well.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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