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Women’s basketball: Air Force’s historic season continues with semifinal win in Mountain West tournament

The Falcons are in the MWC tournament semifinals for the first time ever.

Syndication: Knoxville Saul Young/News Sentinel, Knoxville News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The women’s basketball team at the U.S. Air Force Academy isn’t finished making history.

On the heels of its greatest regular season since becoming a Division I program in 1996, the Falcons marched into Las Vegas on Monday as the fifth seed in the Mountain West Tournament. Matched up with fourth-seeded Nevada, the Falcons jumped out to a 19-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, and then coasted to a 75-60 win.

The victory makes it the first time ever that Air Force will appear in the MWC tourney semifinals. The Falcons were previously 0-5 in the quarterfinals. Also, 15 points is the largest margin for a Falcons’ victory in the tournament.

Air Force got it done Monday with four players scoring in double digits. Cierra Winters finished with 17 points, 10 boards, two steals and three assists. It was the first-ever double-double for the 5-foot-7 senior from El Paso, Texas.

“It feels good to see the first one go down and all of them go down,” said Riley Snyder, who also scored 17 points. “We’re so hard to guard when every single person is hitting and we have such talented players on this team, you can’t just guard one person because next man up is going to hit it.”

Key in the Falcons’ victory was its passing, as they finished with a season-high-tying 19 dimes. Jo Huntimer had five of those dishes. Defensively, Air Force forced the Wolfpack into 12 turnovers while holding them to just seven assists. According to HerHoopStats, Air Force holds opponents to the second-worst assist-turnover ratio in the country with a 0.46 mark.

“I believe that one of the unsung heroes of this team is Jo Huntimer and for her to go out there and handle that pressure,” Air Force coach Chris Gobrecht said of the freshman. “She just handles it and she just carries on and she keeps everybody calm.”

To catch all y’all up, here’s a few other things of note that Gobrecht’s side has accomplished this season:

  • Air Force’s 17 regular season wins are its most since joining Division I in 1996.
  • Air Force’s 11 conference wins are its most since 1991, back when it wasn’t even in Division I.
  • Riley Snyder made the All-Mountain West Team, Cierra Winters was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, and Gobrecht was named Coach of the Year. It’s the first time ever that Air Force has had multiple players earn all-conference honors.
  • Winters led the Mountain West in steals. Nationally she ranks 30th in steals per-game (2.6), 25th in total steals (73), 39th in steals per-40 minutes (3.6) and 23rd in steal rate (4.7%).
  • Haley Jones is seventh nationally in offensive rebounds per-game with 4.5. Her offensive board total (113) is 11th in the country.
  • Snyder is one of 21 players (minimum 20 min per-game; 20 games played) in the country shooting at least 41% from the floor, 33% from three and 89% from the free throw line.
  • Air Force has won seven of its last nine games.

Next Up: UNLV

UNLV is the top seed in the Mountain West tournament, and they’re the Falcons’ next opponent. The Runnin’ Rebels are the only Mountain West team Gobrecht has not beaten since she became Air Force’s head coach in 2015.

“They are a handful for us,” Gobrecht said of UNLV. “They’re big, strong. They execute great. They have shooters. They have post play. It’s pretty hard to find a weakness. There’s a reason they won the conference.”

UNLV beat Air Force 72-54 on Jan. 29, and 83-67 on Jan. 6. Still, Snyder, Gobrecht and the Falcons are confident, not intimidated. The game tips off at 6 p.m. MT on Tuesday.

“We knew we were capable of this, so it’s just going out there every time and giving it all we got and we do that every single night,” Snyder said. “We show up. We’re tough. So, yeah, we want it bad this year.”

Added Gobrecht: “I don’t think I’ve ever worried less about a team. They just, I just don’t worry about whether or not they will know what needs to be done and be ready to do it.”