PROVO — For weeks, BYU has been sitting on the NCAA tournament bubble.
That bubble may have burst after Thursday's 74-68 West Coast Conference loss at San Diego.
At this point, BYU's streak of six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances is in serious jeopardy. The Cougars' best shot at getting back to the Big Dance just might be capturing the WCC tournament in Las Vegas in March — which, of course, would be a difficult challenge.
As of Friday — according to ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi — Saint Mary's, Arizona, St. John's and Illinois are the "Last Four In" the 68-team NCAA tournament field. The "First Four Out" are Temple, Maryland, Villanova and Virginia. And Lunardi's "Next Four Out" are BYU, Southern Miss, Washington and Stanford.
Reality is, the Cougars could be heading to their first NIT appearance since Dave Rose's inaugural season at the helm, back in 2006.
For now, BYU is entering a stretch of three straight home games, beginning Saturday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) against San Francisco.
How will the Cougars bounce back from Thursday's defeat?
"Like we always do," said forward Brandon Davies, who has recorded four double-doubles in a row. "We never let one loss turn into two. We've got a lot of work we need to do. We've got another game (Saturday) and a big week coming up after that. We've just got to get ourselves mentally and physically ready for that."
USF is coming off a bye week. The well-rested Dons haven't played since an 86-78 victory at Pepperdine last Saturday.
The Cougars rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half to defeat USF, 80-76, at War Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 5.
After hosting USF, BYU doesn't play again until next Saturday when it hosts Portland. Then, on Feb. 19, the Cougars play in-state foe Utah State.
BYU travels to Saint Mary's (Feb. 21), before returning home to face No. 6 Gonzaga (Feb. 28). The Cougars close out the regular season at Loyola Marymount on March 2.
The WCC tournament tips off March 7 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
With Thursday's setback, the third-place Cougars fell further behind league-leaders Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. The Zags are still unbeaten in league play while the Gaels, whose only WCC loss was to Gonzaga, posted an impressive 84-63 victory at Santa Clara Thursday.
Before the WCC tournament begins, the Cougars need to improve in several areas.
"We've got to find ways to do a little more individually and get a little better," Davies said.
For starters, BYU was outrebounded, 41-34, at San Diego.
"They outhustled us on the boards," said guard Tyler Haws, who poured in 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field. "We've got to get meaner inside."
Meanwhile, the Cougars shot a dismal 11-of-22 from the free-throw line. That's 11 missed attempts from the charity stripe.
"Obviously, that was a factor in the game," Rose said. "But we're a good free-throw shooting team. We need to step up there with confidence."
While Davies scored 20 points, he was just 4-of-10 from the free-throw line Thursday. Even Haws, an 86 percent free-throw shooter, missed a couple of crucial free throws in the final minutes of the game.
In BYU's previous game, a win over Santa Clara, the Cougars made only 21-of-32 from the line, including a 6-of-13 effort from Davies.
Also troubling was the lack of offensive contributions from players not named Davies and Haws. Davies and Haws combined for 47 of the Cougars' 68 points at San Diego.
Matt Carlino scored nine points on 4-of-14 shooting, while two other starters, Josh Sharp and Brock Zylstra, did not score. Zylstra was 0-of-7 from the floor. Sharp did not attempt a shot in nine minutes of play.
San Francisco (10-13, 3-7) at BYU (18-7, 8-3)
7 p.m. MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company