LAS VEGAS — When BYU and San Francisco collide in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals Monday, it will be a showdown between the two hottest teams in the league.
The Cougars (22-10) have won five consecutive games, while the Dons (21-10) have claimed six victories in a row.
USF’s last loss, in fact, came at the hands of BYU, 68-63, in Provo on Feb. 8. On Jan. 16, the Cougars beat the Dons at War Memorial Gymnasium, 83-76.
The stakes are high in the third meeting Monday (9:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) in the WCC semifinals at Orleans Arena. The winner advances to Tuesday's championship game, with an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line.
Coach Rex Walters’ USF team is not only riding the longest winning streak in the league, but also a wave of confidence.
"I told our guys, 'I think we're the best team here, quite honestly,'" Walters said after the Dons downed San Diego, 69-60, in the quarterfinals Saturday. "We have a chance to prove it. ... I think we've got as good a chance as anyone, and I think we're better."
BYU coach Dave Rose said Walters, who was voted the WCC Coach of the Year, has good reason to believe his team will win the conference championship this week.
USF boasts four starters that average double figures — forward Cole Dickerson (14.6 points per game), forward Kruize Pinkins (12.6), guard Avry Holmes (12.5) and center Mark Tollefsen (11.0). Guard Tim Derkson (8.7) provides a lift for the Dons off the bench.
“They’re really balanced. That’s what makes them so good,” Rose said. “Dickerson has come on really strong of late. He’s been good all year long. He’s playing really well now. (Walters) has a group of guards and shooters that he can depend on. They’ve got themselves a really balanced team. I think that’s why Rex is so confident.”
San Francisco’s 20 regular-season victories are the most for that program since 1981-82. Four of USF's five regular-season conference setbacks came at the hands of BYU and Gonzaga.
In the other semifinal Monday (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN), Gonzaga meets St. Mary’s. The Bulldogs and Gaels are meeting for the seventh year in a row in the WCC tournament. However, the six previous games were in the WCC championship.
The winners of the two semifinal contests meet Tuesday (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN) for the tournament title.
Loyola Marymount coach Max Good, whose team fell to BYU Saturday, 85-74, in the WCC quarterfinals, lost to San Francisco at home in its regular-season finale, 65-61.
“San Francisco’s really strong physically,” Good said. “BYU’s got more size inside. It should be a very interesting game. I’d love to stay and watch the game. I have the utmost respect for both teams.”
BYU guard Kyle Collinsworth is coming off one of his best performances as a Cougar. Against LMU, Collinsworth recorded career highs in points (23) and rebounds (16).
Tyler Haws scored 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting from the floor and 0-of-5 shooting from 3-point territory against the Lions.
As a team, BYU went 0 of 12 from beyond the arc, marking the first time in nearly 18 years the Cougars failed to make at least one 3 in a game.
BYU will have to be much better from long distance to get past San Francisco.
When the Dons played at the Marriott Center a month ago, the Cougars dominated the boards 47-29. USF’s 6-foot-9 Tollefson guarded Haws and held him to 19 points, four below his average.
“We’re excited. We match up well,” Haws said of Monday’s game against San Francisco. “Obviously, they’re a very talented team. Every game was a battle with them this year, so I’m sure we’ll put together a good game plan and we’ll be ready to go.”
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