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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars center Eric Mika shoots over Pacific Tigers forward Trevin Harris (1) during NCAA action in Provo Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014.

PROVO — BYU's Eric Mika responded well to Pacific's physical brand of basketball.

The freshman center scored a career-high 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and recorded three steals in the Cougars' 88-78 win over Pacific Thursday night at the Marriott Center.

Mika was relatively quiet throughout the first half, but exploded for 16 points in the second half. The 6-foot-10 freshman played aggressive, physical, and put together one of the best games of his early career.

“I think he was more confident taking the ball to the rim and going through some big, physical guys,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “I think he was way more explosive tonight than he has been, so that was a really good sign.”

Play was very physical throughout Thursday's game, and even chippy at times. Some loose elbows led to the officials having to separate players on numerous occasions. One such play led to the ejection of Pacific forward Gabriel Aguirre late in the second half.

Playing physical is what Mika relishes.

“It was a physical game, which I like to play, so it was definitely a good game to come back and play well," said Mika.

Mika's frontcourt efforts were helped considerably by Nate Austin, who finished with seven points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots, which energized the team. Together, both big men were the model of efficiency — combining for nine offensive rebounds and 9-of-11 shooting from the field while committing just three turnovers.

“Those nine offensive rebounds between him and Nate led to some really positive things for us," Rose said.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney