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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars guard Matt Carlino (10) rebounds over Loyola Marymount Lions forward Ashley Hamilton (5) in Provo Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013.
;I think I've been a little bit more aggressive. I did struggle earlier in the year, especially on the defensive end. I'm getting better defensively. I think our whole team's improving. —Matt Carlino

PROVO — Two games into the West Coast Conference basketball season, sophomore guard Matt Carlino has been coming up big for BYU.

And if the Cougars hope to contend for the WCC championship, they'll need him to continue to play at that level.

Carlino has scored 43 points in BYU's pair of WCC victories, including Saturday's 80-76 squeaker at San Francisco. Against the Dons, he had 22 points, but he also recorded seven rebounds, four assists and five steals.

Carlino certainly provided a boost to BYU (12-4 overall, 2-0 in WCC play), especially with Brandon Davies playing just 17 minutes due to foul trouble. Davies fouled out with 4:22 remaining.

"Matt was terrific. He was good the whole game," said coach Dave Rose. "He's playing great right now. He has a purpose to where he penetrates and he's way more confident, way more aggressive to what he wants to do … He's doing a much better job of distributing. His confidence level is so much better. Our coaches have done a terrific job with him."

"Matt's coming ready to play. His confidence is definitely building," said guard Tyler Haws, who also scored 22 points against San Francisco. "We're a lot better team when he's playing like that."

Carlino has overcome a slow start to the season and seems to be finding a groove.

"I think I've been a little bit more aggressive. I did struggle earlier in the year, especially on the defensive end," Carlino said. "I'm getting better defensively. I think our whole team's improving."

Rose called the victory over USF "a team effort, a team win."

With Davies sidelined for most of the game, "our guys responded to that urgency," Rose said.

Brock Zylstra scored a season-high 16 points, Josh Sharp grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, and Bronson Kaufusi came in late in the first half and played well, scoring two points. Craig Cusick knocked down a huge 3-pointer with less than two minutes remaining that gave the Cougars a six-point advantage.

"That's a good win for our team, for lots of different reasons," Rose said. "We won the game with a lot of guys pitching in. That's good for our team."

The Dons led by as many as 14 Saturday before the Cougars mounted a gradual comeback.

"That was a gritty effort by us," Carlino said.

It was similar to last year's BYU-USF game at War Memorial Gymnasium in that the Cougars took a big lead, then allowed the Dons to go ahead late. BYU held on for a one-point victory.

Of course, Haws did not play in that game because he was serving a mission in the Philippines at the time. Saturday marked his first experience playing on the road in the WCC.

What did he think about the atmosphere at War Memorial?

"It's definitely different than the Mountain West Conference," Haws said. "It's a smaller gym. It got pretty loud in there. They're kind of like Utah high school gyms. But it was fun. It was a fun environment, and I'm excited to see the rest of the places and see what they're like."

For the Cougars, Saturday's triumph was a learning experience, and a confidence-booster.

"This was a great experience for our team and it definitely gives us confidence going into our next league games," Haws said.

BYU returns home Thursday when it hosts Pepperdine. The Cougars will return to Northern California next Saturday with a game at resurgent Santa Clara.