SAN FRANCISCO — There was plenty of celebrating in the visitors’ locker room at War Memorial Gymnasium Thursday night.
Nobody could blame the BYU Cougars for their elation after they snapped a four-game road losing streak with an 83-76 victory over San Francisco before a crowd of 2,137.
BYU hadn’t won a true road game since Nov. 11 at Stanford.
“It’s huge for us,” said guard Kyle Collinsworth. “Every game is a conference championship right now. We’re on a four-game road (swing). So to get that first one gives us momentum and energy into the next one.”
Collinsworth, who scored a team-high 19 points, was one of five Cougars to score in double figures, along with Skyler Halford (18), Matt Carlino (17), Tyler Haws (15) and Eric Mika (11). It marked Mika’s first game since suffering a bruised hip against San Diego on Jan. 4.
BYU’s struggles on the road have been attributed, in part, to poor defense and poor free-throw shooting.
On Thursday, the Cougars turned things around in those departments — at least in the second half.
BYU kept the Dons’ 3-point shooting in check for much of the game, and the Cougars knocked down 28 of 37 free throws (including 26 of 31 over the final 20 minutes). Those made free throws were crucial, because the game was tight throughout. Halford hit 11 of 12 from the charity stripe.
“I really believe that we got away from how we win on the road,” Rose said. “We scored 112 points at Stanford and we got to where we thought we could score and beat people. Our commitment to the defensive end of the floor is what won this game for us. When you get four or five guys scoring in double figures, and you’re playing good defense, that’s a good formula to win on the road.”
With the win, BYU improved to 12-7 overall and 4-2 in West Coast Conference play. San Francisco fell to 11-8 and 4-3.
In the first half, USF controlled the paint, outrebounding BYU, 27-13. That included 10 offensive rebounds for the Dons.
“In the first half, we got crushed on the boards,” Collinsworth said. “In the second half, that was our focus and we did well. That’s what won us the game — not giving them second chances.”
Meanwhile, BYU gave up a couple of early 3-pointers to USF — the same team that hit 14 3’s against the Cougars last year in Provo — but in the end, the Dons made 5 of 10.
“We got over ball screens well and contained penetration,” Carlino said. “That was one of our main points of emphasis.”
BYU trailed at halftime, 37-34, but gradually put together a run that saw the Cougars take a 48-46 advantage, a lead they would not relinquish.
Overall, Rose was happy with his team’s performance on the road.
“We got a lot of good play out of a lot of guys,” he said. “In the first half, defensively, we executed pretty well but they were quicker to the ball and got a lot of second chances. In the second half, we were so much more active. A lot of 50-50 balls that we got, and we executed really well down the stretch.”
Mika, who started the game, returned to action for the first time in more than a week. He was shaken up in the second half and came out of the game after falling hard to the floor. He later returned to the game before fouling out with 3:29 left after playing 24 minutes.
“It was good to have Eric back,” Rose said. “He fouled out, but he was physical.”
“He gave us some huge minutes,” Carlino said of Mika. “He improves all the time. We need him out there, and he was good for us tonight.”
BYU was clinging to a 72-65 lead when Halford started asserting himself. He scored 14 of his 18 in the second half.
“He played with great energy and played on attack with a great deal of confidence,” Rose said of Halford. “He got to the free-throw line 12 times in the second half. And the 3-pointer he hit in the first half was huge.”
BYU visits Santa Clara Saturday (8 p.m. MST, Root).
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company