San Francisco • A lot of folks have left their hearts in this beautiful city in Northern California. Saturday night, the BYU Cougars left their defense in Provo, and their best inside player on the bench most of the time, thanks to game-long foul problems.
But offense from their guards bridged the gap in the nick of time, despite some horrid free-throw shooting down the stretch, and the result was a gutty 80-76 win for BYU over the hot-shooting San Francisco Dons in front of a sparse but enthusiastic crowd of 2,123 at War Memorial Gymnasium.
"That was a gritty effort by us," said guard Matt Carlino, one of four players who scored 22 points in the game. BYU's Tyler Haws and USF's Cole Dickerson and Cody Doolin were the others.
BYU improved to 2-0 in West Coast Conference play with the win, 12-4 overall; USF fell to 0-2 and 7-8.
Last year, the Cougars made just enough plays to eke out an 85-84 win here, and they did the same thing again despite playing most of the game without Brandon Davies, who fouled out with just six points with 4:22 remaining. He logged just 17 minutes.
"That's a good win for our team for a lot of different reasons," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "… We found a lot of different ways to win with a lot of different guys."
One of those guys wasn't even on the team last month; football star Bronson Kaufusi contributed in the first half with Davies and Nate Austin in foul trouble, and even delivered a basket and a rebound.
The Cougars trailed 46-37 at halftime after the Dons made 9 of 13 3-point shots and shot 61.5 percent from the field.
"We were a step slow … and it was really easy for them to make passes to open shooters," Rose said.
But they started quickly in the second half, chipped away at the big lead and tightened the defense; the Dons were just 2-of-11 from long range in the final 20 minutes.
"I think our guys responded to that urgency" after falling behind by as many as 12 in the first half, Rose said.
Carlino's driving layup with 6:14 left gave the Cougars their first lead since the first minute of the game, 70-69, and almost-forgotten backup guard Craig Cusick followed with the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer with 1:50 left that gave the Cougars a six-point cushion.
Brock Zylstra also came up clutch in Davies' absence, scoring 16 points, 11 in the first half when the Dons were threatening to run away with an upset; Josh Sharp had 10 rebounds, while Carlino had five steals, several of which that led to easy baskets. The Cougars had 12 second-chance points, USF only three.
"I thought we won the game with our rebounding," Carlino said.
It wasn't quite over, however. Haws and Carlino missed big free throws in the final 40 seconds, and the Dons had a chance to tie it after Cusick made and missed free throws with 12 seconds left. But Doolin's heavily defended layup (by Sharp) rolled off and Carlino hit a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds left to seal it.
R In Short • With Brandon Davies scoring only six points and playing only 17 minutes before fouling out, BYU's guards carry the Cougars to an 80-76 win at War Memorial Gymnasium.
Key moment • Craig Cusick's 3-pointer with 1:50 remaining gives the Cougars a six-point lead, and they hang on despite missing big free throws in the last minute.
Key stat • San Francisco goes 2-for-11 from 3-point range in the second half after going 9 for 13 in the first half.