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Lewis Marien, The Pantagraph
BYU's TJ Haws sends a pass toward teammate Yoeli Childs during game against Illinois State on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in Normal, Ill.

PROVO — A little more than one month ago, San Francisco crushed BYU at War Memorial Gym.

In the first half, the Dons went on a 16-0 run while the Cougars went scoreless for seven minutes. In the end, USF shot 64 percent from the field and earned a commanding 82-63 victory.

It marked BYU’s first loss at War Memorial Gym in eight visits as a member of the West Coast Conference.

As the two teams get set for their rematch Thursday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv) at the Marriott Center, the Cougars are, of course, looking to play much better this time around.

And there’s plenty at stake — BYU (18-10, 10-3) is sitting in second place, 1.5 games ahead of San Francisco (20-6, 8-4) and Saint Mary's (17-10, 8-4). The outcome could go a long way to determining the all-important No. 2 seed in the upcoming WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. The first and second seeds get byes all the way to the semifinals in the tournament.

“We look at (this game) a little bit different because they beat us pretty good at their place. It’s kind of similar to the Saint Mary’s game (in Provo). I can feel the same focus from the guys,” said coach Dave Rose. “I don’t think we played our best game at San Francisco by any means. We had a long drought in the first half where we didn’t score. We kind of went away defensively. We’ve grown a lot from that game. This team has really matured.”

Evidence of BYU’s growth came last weekend, when the Cougars swept its road swing at San Diego and Loyola Marymount by overcoming double-digit deficits in both games.

“If we get a four- or five-minute stretch where we’re not playing well offensively, we still have the determination, the fight and grit to stay in there and guard,” Rose said. “Instead of having to come back from 16 or 18 (points), you’re coming back from six or eight. (San Francisco) played us really well last year in here. We were really fortunate to win. And they beat us really good at their place. The last 50 minutes of basketball (against BYU), they’ve been pretty dominant. We’ll see how we do here.”

BYU is a much different team in many ways than it was in mid-January, including changes in the starting lineup with Gavin Baxter replacing Luke Worthington and Nick Emery replacing Connor Harding.

“The most important thing is just playing our game and doing our thing. We’re just trying to find our identity still,” Harding said. “I think earlier on in the season, a lot of teams didn’t see the best BYU team. We’re starting to find our rhythm and our flow. We’re excited to play these teams now. We’ve picked up defensively and offensively. We’re excited to play (USF) again.”

In that game in San Francisco, USF guard Frankie Ferrari scored a team-high 21 points while Jamaree Bouyea came off the bench to score 15. Matt McCarthy added 14, Charles Minlend chipped in 10 and Jordan Ratinho had 10.

BYU’s Yoeli Childs poured in a game-high 25 points, though he only had six in the first half. After the game, Childs blamed himself for the setback.

“In the first half, I was horrible on the offensive end. I can’t miss that many shots," he said. "This loss is on me. I was horrible on the offensive end tonight. Absolutely horrible. That killed us. If I come out and make some layups, it’s probably a lot different game.”

Going into Thursday’s game, Childs said this game against the Dons is “a similar motivation to what we’ve had these last few weeks. We weren’t playing like ourselves. We let the game get away from us a little bit … We’ve learned that over the course of the game we have to fix it together.”

San Francisco is enjoying its best start through 25 games since the 1981-82 season.

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“Their depth is one of their strengths. Their size is an issue for us with Jimbo (Lull) and McCarthy. Those two guys are difficult for us when they get deep catches,” Rose said. “Their athleticism, from their two guards … Bouyea’s a guy that gave us problems over there. Minlend is another guy who can really drive it on us. Ratinho is shooting the ball really well. Frankie is as good as any guard in the league. He’ll be a first-team all-league guy, I’m sure. They’ve got talent, they’ve got depth and they’ve got confidence. They’re playing really well. It’s going to be a good game.”

San Francisco (20-6, 8-4) at BYU (18-10, 10-3)

  • Thursday, 7 p.m. MST
  • Marriott Center
  • TV: BYUtv
  • Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM