Santa Clara, Calif. • If the BYU Cougars have learned anything in their first tour of the West Coast Conference, it is that there are no gimmes on the road in this basketball-focused league — just as there were no easy games out on the old Mountain West Conference trail.
“It’s tough to win college basketball games anywhere on the road,” acknowledged BYU coach Dave Rose earlier this week. “There’s good coaching, and players in this league can really shoot it, especially at home.”
Next up for the Cougars (22-6, 10-3 WCC) after Thursday’s 85-84 escape at San Francisco is Saturday’s game at last-place Santa Clara, still seeking its first league win. Tipoff is at 5 p.m. MST and the game will be televised by ESPNU.
The Broncos (8-18, 0-13) and their fans clearly haven’t lost interest, despite a series of close losses against some of the better teams in the league and the loss of leading scorer Kevin Foster, who wasn’t played since being arrested on suspicion of DUI on Jan. 21.
They sold out the 4,500-seat Leavey Center for Gonzaga’s visit on Thursday, and stayed with the No. 23 Zags most of the way, despite 37 percent shooting, before falling 73-62.
Gonzaga shot 61 percent.
Rose said the Cougars can’t afford to look past the Broncos and toward Thursday’s showdown at Gonzaga, which could be for a piece of the league title if 12-2 Saint Mary’s stumbles again.
“With Loyola’s big win at Saint Mary’s, it kind of brings everyone closer together, so for us, we got into this a couple weeks ago where every game is just really, really important for us,” Rose said. “I don’t think it changes [BYU’s approach], but it does give us maybe mentally a little bit more of an edge to where things could happen here where we have a chance [to get a piece of the league title].”
BYU at Santa Clara
P At Leavey Center (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Tipoff • Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV • ESPNU
Radio • 1160 AM,102.7 FM
Records • BYU 22-6, 10-3; Santa Clara 8-18, 0-13
Series • BYU leads, 15-5
Last meeting • BYU 95, Santa Clara 78
About the Cougars • They have won four straight games and six of their past seven. … They are in third place in the WCC standings, a full game behind Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s and a half-game in front of Loyola-Marymount. … Against USF, Matt Carlino became the fourth freshman in school history to score 30 or more in a game, joining Mekeli Wesley, Mark Bigelow and Danny Ainge.
About the Broncos • They almost upset No. 23 Gonzaga on Thursday night in front of a sellout crowd at home, falling 73-62 after being close in the final few minutes. … Evan Roquemore scored 21 points and Ray Cowels III added 16 in the loss. … They committed just four turnovers against Gonzaga while BYU was forcing 14 at San Francisco.