The Cougar hoopsters accomplished a couple of notable firsts the other night in winning 80-76 at San Francisco: BYU is 2-0 in league play for the first time as a West Coast Conference member, and has its first four-game win streak of the season.
The comeback at USF also represented a somewhat more significant achievement: the Cougars figured out how to win without being able to follow their traditional formula for victory.
Saturday night, with BYU looking for its first win outside the state of Utah, the Cougars were faced with a number of hurdles on The Hilltop:
A hobbled Brandon Davies fouled out in 17 minutes, after being held to only six points, snapping his streak of 22 consecutive games in double-figure scoring.
Tyler Haws got to a 2-for-9 shooting start, and for what might end up being the only time in his college career, missed three consecutive free throws, including two front ends in the game's closing minutes.
BYU saw USF make nine of its first 11 three-point field goals; the Dons would head to halftime on 9-for-13 shooting from the arc, as BYU trailed by nine at the break. When trailing at halftime this season, BYU was 1-3, and under head coach Dave Rose, the Cougars had a 39% win rate when trailing at halftime.
On the night, USF outshot BYU from the field, the arc and the stripe; that had only happened twice this season (v. Notre Dame, at Iowa State), and BYU lost both games.
USF would shoot 50% FG on the night; BYU was 0-2 this season in those situations, and under Rose, the Cougars had a 34% win rate when the opponent makes at least half of its shots.
While the crowd wasn't large, and was boosted by the presence of many BYU fans, the Cougars were on the road for the first time in WCC play, and needing a win to keep pace with league leader Gonzaga, which was getting off to a 2-0 start on the WCC road.
Facing all of these challenges, the Cougars responded.
Brock Zylstra, who had made only two of his previous 17 three-point attempts, went 3-for-3 from distance in the first half, part of a 4-for-4 shooting half that kept BYU within shouting distance at halftime. He would go on to record season highs in points (16) and rebounds (7).
Matt Carlino scored a season-high and team high-tying 22 points--his second consecutive outing with 20+ points, making BYU 5-0 when Carlino tops the 20-point plateau. He added a career high-tying seven rebounds, four assists and five steals, and made the game-sealing free throws with under three seconds to play.
Josh Sharp had a double-figure rebounding performance for the second consecutive game, coming down with 10 rebounds, including four huge offensive resets, helping BYU to a 12-3 edge in second-chance points.
Tyler Haws rebounded from his 2-for-9 first half to make seven of 11 shots after halftime, finishing with 22 points--slightly ahead of his 20.9 ppg average.
The four players mentioned above carried the Cougars--so much so that they all played 34-38 minutes in the game. Craig Cusick's 17 minutes were important; his four points included a three-pointer that gave BYU a six-point lead down the stretch, and he added four rebounds. After going three consecutive games scoreless, Cusick opened league play with 10 points in two games.
Rose noted after the game that BYU never gave itself the chance start WCC competition at 2-0 last year, opening with a loss at St. Mary's. Starting out 2-0 keeps BYU atop the league with Gonzaga, which won at Pepperdine and Santa Clara last week. BYU has a chance to match the Zags' win over the Broncos when the Cougars visit Santa Clara this coming weekend; BYU hosts Pepperdine on Thursday.
Rose also said that a fourth straight win was significant for the Cougars, who had won three consecutive games on two earlier occasions before taking a three-game run into San Francisco on Saturday. Under Rose, BYU has been a streak-heavy program, with at least one five-game win streak in every year of his tenure. The longest streak for last season's 26-win team was five games, on two occasions. BYU can win its fifth straight game Thursday night when the Waves play in Provo.
* Through 16 games
BYU's 2-0 week saw the Cougars' team PAP (Points Available Percentage) improve to 47.5%, now ahead of the Rose-era low-water mark of 47.4%, set by the 2007-08 team.
Individually, only four players had negative weeks, but two of them were Haws and Davies, underscoring the importance that other players step up to compensate. Of BYU's major-minute players, Matt Carlino had the best week, with his PAP moving over the 40% plateau for the first time this season.
Josh Sharp continues to be efficient and opportunistic at the starting power forward position. Not a true shooter per se, Sharp makes the most of his close-to-the-basket chances and rarely wastes a shot.
Nate Austin's PAP is down almost ten percentage points from his freshman season number. Austin ended the 2011-12 season at 51.8%, which ranked third on the team; his current 41.9% rate ranks seventh. The "4" spot has been in flux for most of the season, but Rose seems to have settled on Sharp, so most of Austin's minutes will continue to come as a backup at the power forward and center positions, depending on matchups and lineups.
Matt Carlino is coming around. In late November, his PAP hovered in the high 20s, but has climbed steadily in the ensuing weeks, and is now finally over the 40% mark. Carlino was his team's leading scorer in both wins last week, and this bodes very well for the Cougars, who need each member of the Big Three (Davies, Haws, Carlino) to thrive, for this to be a special season.
Bronson Kaufusi's ranking is a function of his having played only six minutes over two games, but hey, all you can do is try to make the shots you take, and so far, the football cross-over has done just that.
Cory Calvert and Agustin Ambrosino made the most of their minutes last week; Calvert made his only shot in three minutes v. LMU (DNP at USF), while Ambrosino was 2-for-3 and made his only three-point attempt in nine minutes v. LMU (DNP at USF).
With the addition of Kaufusi, Harward is in danger of losing his place as a member of Rose's rotation. He played only five minutes over two games last week, and did not attempt a shot or grab a rebound, while fouling four times. His 15 fouls/40 minutes lead the team by a wide margin, and nagging back issues have contributed to his difficulties.
Anson Winder has been seeing some backup point guard minutes of late, but while his defensive presence is a positive, his offensive numbers make it tough to go with him for longer stretches.
Shooting 48% inside the arc, Raul Delgado remains under 30% as a three-point shooter, which was his desired skill as a juco signee. He's playing better, but he's not the gunslinger who once hit 12 threes in a game last season at Western Nebraska.