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San Francisco • A couple weeks ago, the BYU Cougars were crestfallen, having lost four straight road games. Most of their confidence was shot after losing back-to-back West Coast Conference games to a pair of the perceived lesser teams in the league, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine.
Since then, the Cougars have won three straight, avenging those losses to LMU and Pepperdine along the way. But those games were played at the Marriott Center.
Now they have to head out on the road again for four straight games away from home that will quite likely define their conference season. The rugged stretch begins Thursday night at surprising San Francisco, which is home for its next five games. The Dons (11-7, 4-2) have played their way into a tie for second place in the WCC despite losing star guard Cody Doolin, who quit the team in late November after getting into an altercation with a teammate.
For BYU, the question is simple: Have the Cougars (11-7, 3-2) improved to the point where they can win a league game on the road?
'Well, we will find out," coach Dave Rose said. "I mean, that's the challenge for our guys. Hopefully, this team understands the challenge of the weekend. These road games are really hard to win. We have to have a great effort from everyone. We can't have just a couple guys playing well."
BYU's first two trips to War Memorial as a WCC member were successful, but not easy. The Cougars won 85-84 in 2012 thanks to 30 points by Matt Carlino, and 80-76 last year after trailing by eight points with three minutes remaining. After last year's home loss, however, USF got revenge by traveling to Provo and stunning the Cougars 99-87 with a barrage of late-game 3-pointers. They made 14 3-pointers.
"I mean, it was crazy," recalled Carlino. "De'End Parker was like LeBron James, the whole game. We can't have anything like that happen again. We can't have guys look like all-stars against us."
Parker was dismissed from the team last summer due to conduct detrimental to the program and is now at Cal State San Marcos, but Cole Dickerson, Avry Holmes and Tim Derksen are back. Kruize Pinkins is a big addition inside.
"It is basically the same guys," Rose said. "Those are all guys who can really shoot is so hopefully our guys will be ready for what is going to happen."
At least, BYU should have the services of freshman forward Eric Mika, who missed the Pepperdine and LMU games in Provo with a hip contusion and hamstring issues. Mika practiced this week and Rose said he is expected to play, barring a last-minute setback.
BYU at San Francisco
O At War Memorial Gymnasium, San Francisco
Tipoff • Thursday, 7 p.m. MST
TV • ESPNU
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 11-7 (3-2); San Francisco 11-7 (4-2)
Series history • BYU leads 8-6
Last meeting • San Francisco 99, BYU 87 (Feb. 9, 2013)