SAN FRANCISCO — At War Memorial Gym, people are bracing for the BYU invasion.
As the Cougars visit the San Francisco Dons Thursday night (8 p.m., MST, ESPNU), they are expected to be joined by a large contingent of their enthusiastic, blue-clad fans, just as they have at other venues around the West Coast Conference.
"It's amazing. Everywhere we go, we're selling out other people's arenas with our fans," said BYU forward Brandon Davies. "It's great to see how broad our fan base is and to see how many people support us."
The Cougars, who are first-year members of the WCC, are entering a key stretch of their schedule, with three straight road games. After tonight at War Memorial Gym (capacity: 5,300), BYU faces Santa Clara (the Broncos' student section is known as "Ruff Riders") Saturday, then Gonzaga (which boasts the second-largest arena in the WCC, behind the Marriott Center, with 6,000 seats) next Thursday.
"It's real big. We have the opportunity to do something special," Davies said of these three contests. "I can't remember the last time we had a road trip with back-to-back games without coming home. It's important to get this first win out of the way."
The Cougars are counting on continued support from their loyal fans, and members of the LDS Church, in northern California and in the Pacific Northwest.
"BYU fans have turned out really well to watch this team," said coach Dave Rose. "Hopefully that will continue these next three road games."
Guard Craig Cusick, who is experiencing his first season on BYU's traveling squad, is impressed with the large numbers of Cougar fans that show up at opposing arenas.
"I had no idea it was going to be like this," he said. "I figured there would be fans here and there for BYU, but I didn't realize how many — especially in California, where we've played a lot. I've been surprised how many fans we've had and we're grateful for the support."
While BYU fans are turning out in droves to road games, WCC fans are responding. They're already treating the Cougars like a rival. Their favorite targets of derision are Davies and senior forward Noah Hartsock.
Davies, who was suspended a year ago for a highly publicized honor code violation, has absorbed plenty of verbal abuse. And because the gyms are small, voices tend to resonate throughout the gyms.
Asked how he deals with the harsh, personal attacks, Davies shrugged.
"It's basketball. It happens to everyone," he said. "I don't really notice it. It's fun to laugh about it after we walk out with a win. We have a job to do. We're there to beat the team on the court. We don't worry too much about the fans."
Davies' impressive play proves that the negative comments don't bother him, Cusick said. If anything, they might serve as a motivator.
"He totally blocks it out. It hasn't affected him," Cusick said. "Wherever you go, there are going to be chants. People are going to yell at you. There are going to be signs. Brandon's ignored it and he's played his game. He's playing well this season. The crowd has got on other guys, too, but they ignore it and just play."
Opposing fans like to jeer the balding Hartsock with chants of "Ro-gaine," a tradition that started last year.
"At first, it was funny," said guard Brock Zylstra. "But now, everywhere we go, it's the same chant. … We're used to it."
Rose said it makes sense that opposing fans enjoy hounding Davies and Hartsock, since Hartsock averages a team-high 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and Davies averages 14.4 points and 8 rebounds.
"Anybody who gets a lot done on the floor on the road is going to take a lot of heat," Rose said.
While WCC schools don't like to see their venues turned into a smaller, West Coast-version of the Marriott Center, it is good for business.
For example, USF is charging $35 for a general admission ticket for the BYU game, which is $20 more than the usual rate. That's been standard operating procedure for every WCC team this season when the Cougars — and their legions of fans — come to town.
Cougars on the air
BYU (21-6, 9-3 WCC) at U. of San Francisco (17-10, 7-6)
Tonight, 8 p.m. MT
War Memorial Gym, San Francisco
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM