Top-seeded BYU eludes Air Force

Top-seeded Brigham Young avoided calamity Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

Pulling away in the final minutes, after trailing at halftime, the Cougars advanced with an 80-69 victory over pesky No. 9 seed Air Force at the Thomas & Mack Center. A loss might have jeopardized BYU’s NCAA Tournament plans.

“This is a very, very big win for our team,” coach Dave Rose said. “You want to play as consistent as you can to get yourself in the conversation of being invited to the tournament, then you don’t want to give them any reason or excuse not to invite you.”

Beating the Falcons probably ensured the Cougars (22-9) an NCAA bid, but another win over San Diego State tonight in the semifinals certainly couldn’t hurt their case. BYU swept the regular-season series, winning 77-71 in Provo and 69-59 in San Diego. The Aztecs advanced by beating UNLV, 71-57.

Rose hopes his team won’t have to play from behind as it did for much of Thursday’s game. “It worries me to trail,” he said.

With about five minutes to play, the Cougars were clinging to a 63-61 lead. They finally gained some breathing room with a 14-6 spurt.

“Coach told us we had to play a little bit harder, a little more effort and with more sense of urgency,” said BYU’s Lee Cummard, who had 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmer Fredette led BYU with 21 points, and Jonathan Tavernari had 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Anwar Johnson led Air Force (10-21) with 24 points.

“If you had told me before the game started that we would have only had nine turnovers, I would have thought we’d be in the game and in a position to win,” Falcons coach Jeff Reynolds said. “They made some really good contested shots. They made big plays, and they were made by their big-time players.”

• Utah 61, Texas Christian 58 — Lawrence Borha’s tiebreaking 3-pointer from the left corner with eight-tenths of a second remaining sent the second-seeded Utes into the semifinals, where they will play Wyoming at 8:30 tonight.

Zvonko Buljan put the Horned Frogs ahead 58-56 with 1:04 to play with a jumper from the top of the key. But Buljan fouled Utah’s Luke Nevill 20 seconds later, and his two free throws tied the score.

Ronnie Moss tried to put seventh-seeded TCU (14-17) back in front but missed from two feet with 26 seconds left.

It was a tough night for Nevill, the Mountain West’s Player of the Year. The center had just one field goal and five rebounds. But he blocked three shots and was 8-for-8 from the foul line, finishing with 10 points.

Buljan led all scorers with 20 points.

• Wyoming 75, New Mexico 67 — Senior guard Brandon Ewing scored 20 points to help the sixth-seeded Cowboys (19-12) overcome a 13-point first-half deficit and upend the third-seeded Lobos (21-11).

Five of the seven Wyoming players who took the court scored in double figures.

New Mexico managed just eight field goals in the second half, going nearly nine minutes without a basket. Center Daniel Faris fouled out with 6:21 left.

The Lobos got as close as 71-67 with 38 seconds remaining after trailing by 10 with two minutes left. But Ewing and Tyson Johnson hit free throws in the final 20 seconds.

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