BYU's next opponent, San Francisco, is a much-improved team
BYU basketball • San Francisco better than the team Y. crushed last month.
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Provo • The San Francisco Dons were crushed 81-56 by BYU last month at the Marriott Center, but they sure have the Cougars' respect as the teams prepare for Thursday's rematch at USF's War Memorial Gymnasium.

Winning seven of its last nine games will do that for a team.

"We know they are a much-improved team," BYU forward Noah Hartsock said after practice Tuesday. "They are playing as well as anybody in the league right now."

The Dons (17-10, 7-6 WCC) had lost at Pepperdine and at home to Loyola Marymount and were lacking in confidence when they rolled into Provo on Jan. 7, but now they've won five of their last six and are as balanced offensively as any team in the WCC, BYU coach Dave Rose said.

"They are a completely different team than what we saw when we played them here, as far as their confidence level, as far as their execution offensively," Rose said. "They are really comfortable with how they are playing. They remind me a lot of how they were playing last year at the end of the season when I watched them a couple times."

Road warriors

The Cougars will stay in the Bay Area after Thursday's game because they are at Santa Clara on Saturday, the first two-game road swing in league play.

"This will be different for us. I think that the most important thing for us is to be prepared to play on Thursday, to execute our game plan, to play well, and hopefully have a good outcome," Rose said. "And then we will worry about the next game after that."

Zylstra will play

Shooting guard Brock Zylstra, who sat out of BYU's 86-48 win over Pepperdine on Saturday with a sprained ankle, has practiced all week and expects to play against the Dons on Thursday.

"I wouldn't say that it is 100 percent, but it is good enough for me to play," Zylstra said. "I feel good, and I have practiced the last couple of days, so I am ready."

Zylstra said he knew if he went back into the game against Portland after spraining his ankle in the first half that it might cost him a chance to play in the Pepperdine game, but it was a risk he was willing to take.

Briefly

West Coast Conference teams St. Mary's and Loyola Marymount will participate in ESPN BracketBusters games this weekend, but Rose said "not now" when he was asked Tuesday if he would ever be interested in having the Cougars play in one of the arranged games. ... The Cougars have forced an averaged of 21.0 turnovers the last three games while recording an average of 13.8 steals per game during that stretch.

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay —

BYU at San Francisco

P Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV • ESPNU