While surging Colorado State continued its recent success against Air Force with a lopsided win last month, taking the Falcons lightly this time around could prove costly.
The No. 24 Rams can record their winningest season in nearly a quarter century as they face an Air Force team eagerly awaiting their arrival Saturday.
Colorado State (20-4, 7-2), which joined the rankings this week for the first time since 1954, looked every bit like one of the more formidable teams in the country during a 79-40 rout of the Falcons on Jan. 16. Wes Eikmeier scored 17 points and fellow senior Colton Iverson added 15 for the Rams, who held a 40-19 rebounding advantage and limited Air Force to its fewest points in four seasons.
"They're very physical, they're very strong, they play extremely hard, they're very well coached," Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich said afterward. "They came at us, they punched us, they punched us, they punched us."
Colorado State has taken eight of 10 in this series, including the last three by an average of 22.4 points. The Rams, though, could have their hands full at Clune Arena, where Air Force has outscored opponents by 18.8 points per game in going 11-1.
"We definitely want revenge, and we've done so well at home," said Falcons guard Mike Fitzgerald, averaging 17.0 points - 6.5 more than his season mark - over his last three games. "There's no reason we can't win. We expect to win."
So do the Rams, who have posted a second straight 20-win season. The program hasn't surpassed that mark since going 21-9 in 1989-90.
While all of Colorado State's losses have come in opposing arenas, coach Larry Eustachy's team enters the weekend riding a wave of momentum after beating San Diego State 66-60 for its fifth consecutive win Wednesday. Dorian Green scored six of his team-leading 16 points in the final 65 seconds and dished out six assists.
"I thought that was as good of a game that I have been involved with in a long, long time," said Eustachy, whose team averages a Division I-best 42.5 rebounds per game. "Dorian was steady like he has been all year and made some huge shots."
Green has averaged 15.6 points and 5.0 assists over the past seven games to help make up for the struggles of Eikmeier, who has shot 18.6 percent in his last four while going 4 for 20 from 3-point range.
Greg Smith added 15 points and seven rebounds Wednesday, a week after posting a career-best 28 points and season-high 12 boards in a 73-69 win at Nevada which vaulted the Rams into the Top 25.
"We wanted to show people that we deserved it, that we could keep it going," Smith said. "We felt we should have (been ranked) weeks ago."
Air Force (15-8, 6-4) regrouped from back-to-back road losses with Wednesday's 71-56 win over UNLV. Michael Lyons, averaging a league-high 18.0 points, scored 27 and Fitzgerald added 18 and eight boards for the Falcons, who outrebounded the Runnin' Rebels 35-24.
"We expected to come out and play the way we did," said Lyons, who scored just eight points against Colorado State last month. "... Things were working out for us offensively and defensively."
The Falcons may need to clamp down again if they hope to have a chance Saturday. The Rams are undefeated when shooting at least 37.0 percent but 0-4 when they don't.
Air Force is looking to win eight straight on its own court for the first time since opening 13-0 in 2006-07.
The Falcons have gone 3-78 all-time against ranked foes, including 1-4 this season. That victory, however, came in their only such matchup at home, 70-67 over then-No. 22 San Diego State on Feb. 2.
The Associated Press News Service
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