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Air Force uses 13-3 run to fight off Pan American

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -- The Air Force Falcons (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today) were due
for a letdown.

No longer facing Duke, Texas Tech or Wake Forest, instead they
had spunky Texas-Pan American at comfy Clune Arena.

They didn't have floor leader Matt McCraw (ankle) or a sense of
urgency until the final three minutes, when they used a 13-3 run to
turn back the Broncs 70-58.

"We have to play with a great sense of urgency from start to
finish. If we don't, we're just an average team," said coach Jeff
Bzdelik, whose team is 9-1 for the second straight season. "For
whatever reason, our energy has been up and down and all around."

Actually, he thinks he knows why: the Falcons are getting too
comfortable at home and a little stressed out for finals week.

"This is a tough, tough time at the academy," Bzdelik said.

Plus, "these teams are good. And they come in here and we might
be the biggest game on their schedule," Bzdelik said. "So, we
need to understand all that and react better."

Nick Welch said the absence of McCraw, who badly sprained an
ankle in practice this week, had a lot to do with the Falcons'
inability to put the Broncs away early.

"With Matt out of the lineup, we went with a little different
look on defense and we haven't practiced it too much and maybe we
were just kind of confused from the start there," Welch said. "A
win's a win. That's what we came away with and it wasn't pretty by
any means. But like coach told us in the locker room, once we
picked up our defensive intensity, they couldn't hang with us.

"So, if we can play that way for 40 minutes, there's not many
teams that can play with us."

Dan Nwaelele played that way for 40 minutes, scoring 26 points,
including 10 after the Broncs (5-4) had rallied from a 10-point
deficit to tie it at 47. He also helped cool off the Broncs' best
player, Brian Burrell, who finished with 21 points.

"I have a lot of confidence and my teammates have confidence in
me," Nwaelele said.

And why not? In his last two games, Nwaelele is 14-of-16 from
the floor, 8-of-9 from beyond the arc and 16-of-16 from the stripe
for back-to-back 26-point performances.

Nwaelele had five 3-pointers Wednesday night and Welch added
three, including one with 1:52 left that gave Air Force a 60-55
cushion and sparked the game-ending rally. Welch finished with 13
points.

During the Broncs' rally that tied it at 47, Bzdelik was
whistled for a technical.

"I just wanted to get something going with somebody," he said.
"And shake it up a little bit."

The spark came a little bit later, but it did serve its
immediate purpose, forward Jacob Burtschi said.

"It's better he gets it than me," Burtschi said. "I like it
whenever he gets excited. When he's (upset) with the ref, that
means I can get away with maybe a mistake or two and run my mouth a
little bit and he's not focusing on me.

"You hardly ever see him get a technical, so when he gets a
technical, he means business."

Nwaelele's three-point play with just under five minutes
remaining made it 57-53, and after Zach Trader's basket with about
3½ minutes left, the Broncs went cold and the Falcons closed with a
13-3 run.

"Things didn't go our way late," Burrell said. "We couldn't
hit the points when we had to and they could."

Texas-Pan American coach Tom Schuberth complained to the
officiating crew of Mike Littlewood, Jim Danner and Bobby McRoy
afterward about the disparity in the team's trips to the foul line
-- Air Force was 19-of-21 from the stripe and the Broncs just
5-of-6.