Provo • About to head out on their second four-game road swing of the basketball season, the Cougars got some good news at practices on Monday and Tuesday.
Freshman center Eric Mika, who missed last week’s wins over Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount with a hip contusion and various other ailments after suffering a hard fall against San Diego, is expected to play on Thursday night at San Francisco (7 p.m., ESPNU).
“Well, Eric is feeling better,” coach Dave Rose said after practice on Tuesday. “He practiced a little bit yesterday, and today was at it full time. So unless he has a setback tonight, we anticipate him having a good practice tomorrow and playing on Thursday.”
The Cougars (3-2, 11-7) will need Mika, Rose said, because San Francisco (4-2, 11-7) is playing as well as any team in the league, despite a big loss at Saint Mary’s on Saturday.
“Eric is a big part of our offensive and defensive game plan,” Rose said. “I do think that having another body will really be good. I believe the combination of Josh [Sharp] and Nate [Austin] was really good for us in playing those minutes, and [getting] a couple wins. It should help the confidence of the team, but we need Eric. … The most important thing is that he’s healthy.”
The Cougars moved up a few spots in the nationally respected Sagarin Ratings after their weekend wins over Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount and are now at No. 43, tied with Dayton and just behind Oklahoma.
BYU has played the 16th-most difficult schedule in the country, but is set to move more into its WCC schedule, which is supposedly easier than its nonconference schedule.
Utah has moved up to No. 71, according to Jeff Sagarin, but still has had one of the weakest schedules in the country, 330th. Utah State’s Sagarin rating is No. 80.
The West Coast Conference is shaping up to be a one- or two-bid league for the NCAA Tournament this spring, unless BYU gets hot the next two months. The Cougars are among the “First Four Out” in ESPN college basketball expert Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology update, while Saint Mary’s is among the “Last Four In.”
Gonzaga is the only sure bet at this point. The Zags are a No. 5 seed right now, according to Lunardi, despite Saturday’s surprising loss at Portland.
Saturday’s 30-for-38 performance from the free-throw line (78.9 percent) marked the Cougars’ best outing from the charity stripe this season. The Cougars have improved their free-throw percentage in each of the last six games after shooting 54.8 percent against Utah. … Tyler Haws earned West Coast Conference Player of the Week honors on Monday for the first time this season after scoring 66 points in wins over Pepperdine and LMU. … San Francisco is the worst free-throw shooting team in the WCC, at 64 percent, but the second-best field-goal percentage team in the league, at 48.5 percent.
BYU at San Francisco
O Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPNU