PROVO — With less than one month until the West Coast Conference tournament tips off at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, BYU sits all alone in second place in the league standings.
The Cougars (17-9, 9-4) are coming off a hard-fought 68-63 victory over San Francisco (15-10, 8-5) at the Marriott Center last Saturday.
After picking up four consecutive home victories during the past two weeks, BYU heads back on the road this week, starting with a game at Pacific Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ROOT).
On Saturday, the Cougars visit third-place Saint Mary’s (18-7, 8-4), which edged Pepperdine, 69-67, in overtime last Saturday.
BYU coach Dave Rose knows nothing will come easy over the next three weeks as the Cougars get set for the stretch run of the regular season and as they position themselves for conference tournament seeding.
“The best thing about this time of year when you win is, it makes the next game even bigger,” Rose said. “It makes next weekend really important for us.”
Rose was pleased with the way his team gutted out the victory over San Francisco.
“That was a great team win,” said Rose. “It had a whole different feel than the last couple of games at the Marriott Center where we scored the ball really well. Our guys just battled and made so many plays. We had to make every play to come out of there (with a win).”
Against USF, BYU had to deal with a slower pace than it is accustomed to. But the Cougars outrebounded the Dons, 47-29, as Nate Austin had a career-high 16 rebounds and Eric Mika recorded a double-double with 13 points and 13 boards.
“We’ve been scoring in the 80s for a nice little stretch. You win a game at 68, and that’s how you do it,” Rose said. “You make big plays on the defensive end; you get big rebounds on misses. Our guys did a really good job of digging in and finding a way to win.”
The Cougars began their homestand after back-to-back setbacks at Portland and Gonzaga. BYU is hoping to build on the momentum it now has.
“To come home after a triple-overtime loss at Portland and a tough game in the second half at Gonzaga, to get four (straight) wins should put us in a pretty good spot,” Rose said. “Now we’re back on the road again. We’ll have to get ready. It’s going to take the same kind of effort in every game we play from now on. Guys are going to have to give second, third and fourth efforts to try to get wins this week.”