Santa Clara, Calif. • The highlight-reel play happened with just more than 13 minutes remaining in Thursday night’s 83-76 win over San Francisco at War Memorial Gymnasium.
BYU guard Matt Carlino came up with his second huge steal of the game and quickly spotted Tyler Haws, who was streaking toward the basket. The 6-foot-5 Haws threw down an emphatic dunk over a surprised Mark Tollefsen, who had 4 inches on him, and drew the foul for an eventual three-point play.
That put the Cougars ahead 51-47, and they never would trail again in winning their fourth straight game. Both the play and the victory gave BYU a much-needed boost of confidence and handed the Cougars their first true road win since Nov. 11, when they routed Stanford 112-103 just down Highway 101 in Palo Alto.
“This was a huge win for our guys and makes Saturday even more important,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Cougars plan to stay in the Bay Area on Saturday — although they switched hotels — and continue their four-game stretch of games away from the Marriott Center against Santa Clara, which lost at home to San Diego 69-66 on Thursday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Leavey Center, where BYU has won by an average of 16.5 points in its first two games there as a member of the West Coast Conference.
The Broncos (3-4, 10-10) won at Saint Mary’s 57-55 on Jan. 9 to serve notice they could be a factor in the WCC race this season, but they have dropped their last two games.
“It is fun. I love it,” BYU guard Kyle Collinsworth said about playing back-to-back conference road games in the same area.
Of course, that didn’t go well for BYU (4-2, 12-7) last time. The Cougars dropped successive games at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine in the Los Angeles area to open WCC play and still are trying to dig themselves out of that hole.
They are armed with confidence this time, thanks to Thursday night’s breakthrough.
“The most important thing that our staff has tried to work through is that we don’t lose confidence,” Rose said after BYU won a close game at USF for the third straight year. “You need that, to win on the road. That’s probably where the preseason [schedule] hurt us the most, is that we didn’t get a lot of road wins.”
The Cougars won despite not getting a big game from Haws, the WCC’s leading scorer with a 22.6 average and some better hops than he is given credit for, as Tollefsen learned. He had 15 points and was not the team’s leading scorer for only the third time in games in which he’s played this season. Four of his teammates also reached double figures.
“When you get four or five guys scoring in double figures, and you play good defense, that’s a good formula for winning on the road,” Rose said.
If there was a cause for concern for the Cougars after the win, it was that freshman center Eric Mika clearly is not healthy. Mika scored 11 points, his 16th straight game in double figures, but suffered another hard fall. He also had a noticeable limp late in the game.
“I still believe his knee is bothering him a little bit,” Carlino said. “But he gave us some huge minutes. He is just going to keep improving. He is young, and he gets down on himself a lot. ... He can be really tough on himself, but we need him out there, and he was really good tonight.”
Like Collinsworth, Carlino is relishing the opportunity to get back on the court again and play another road game in front of what should be a split crowd of BYU and Santa Clara boosters.
“I mean, I didn’t like it the first week,” Carlino said. “But it is good now. You just have to talk to your professors more and let them know you are going to be gone for a while. ... It is just more games, so it is just fun.”
BYU at Santa Clara
O At the Leavey Center, Santa Clara, Calif.
Tipoff • Saturday, 8 p.m. MST
TV • ROOT Rocky Mountain (live); ROOT RM Comcast (9 p.m. tape delay)
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 12-7 (4-2); Santa Clara 10-10 (3-4)
Series history • BYU leads, 19-5
Last meeting • BYU 96, Santa Clara 79 on Feb. 2, 2013
About the Broncos • G Brandon Clark leads them in scoring with a 17.6 average, while freshman Jared Brownridge has emerged as a newcomer of the year candidate in the WCC, averaging 16.0 points per game. ... They are coming off a 69-66 home loss to San Diego on Thursday night, despite 21 points from Clark and 19 from Brownridge.
About the Cougars • Junior guard Matt Carlino is three points away from becoming the 46th player in school history to score 1,000 points in his career. ... They never have lost to Santa Clara as a member of the WCC, downing the Broncos four straight times since joining the league before the 2011-12 season. ... Tyler Haws has scored in double figures in 32 straight games, the ninth-best run of double-digit scoring in school history.