PROVO — Sole possession of second place in the West Coast Conference is on the line when BYU hosts San Francisco.
As the Dons invade the Marriott Center Saturday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) both teams are tied for second and have identical 8-4 records in conference play, three games behind league-leading Gonzaga.
While the Cougars are riding a three-game winning streak, including Thursday’s 89-76 win over Santa Clara, USF has won four of its last five games.
Over the years, the Dons have been a tough matchup for BYU.
The Cougars won last month at War Memorial Gym in San Francisco, 83-76, but BYU hasn’t forgotten what happened at the Marriott Center one year ago.
USF rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to stun the Cougars, 99-87. San Francisco scored 60 second-half points, shot 72 percent from the floor in the second half, and knocked down 9 of 10 shots from 3-point territory over the final 20 minutes. The Dons finished the night with 14 3-pointers.
“They came in here and scored 99 points,” coach Dave Rose said about preparing for the Dons. “That’s where we’ll start. They really spread the floor and have great shooters. They usually have five guys on the floor that can shoot the 3. They play with tremendous energy.”
Forward Cole Dickerson leads USF in scoring, averaging 14.8 points per game and seven rebounds. Kruize Pinkins, Mark Tollefson and Avry Holmes also average double figures in scoring.
No doubt, BYU will need strong perimeter defense Saturday against San Francisco.
“They’re a physical team. They play hard for 40 minutes,” said BYU guard Tyler Haws. “They’re really good at sharing the ball and making you pay for mistakes on defense. They move that ball around so well. We’ve got to keep guys in front and close out shooters the right way.”
Many are surprised how well the Dons have played this season without point guard Cody Doolin, who left the team last November after an altercation with a teammate.
“They’ve obviously found another guy that fits pretty good, too,” Rose said of guard Matt Glover.
USF has improved dramatically as a road team this season, Rose said. USF won at San Diego Thursday, 74-67.
“They’re on a nice little streak,” Rose said. “They’ve been really good on the road this year. The only places they’ve been beat is at Gonzaga and at Saint Mary’s.”
As the Cougars position themselves for the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, which tips off in about one month, they like the direction they’re heading.
“I think our confidence is pretty high,” said guard Anson Winder. “Our whole mentality is to stay together as a team and stay positive. I think we’re staying positive. Hopefully we’ll ride this wave all the way through until the end.”
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