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San Jose St. is no longer WAC patsy

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PROVO -- For those who find BYU's 2-1 WAC record surprising, check out San Jose State.

The Spartans, who were picked to finish dead last in the Pacific Division, sport a similar mark entering Thursday's visit to the Marriott Center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m."San Jose State has been the surprise team of the conference to this point," said BYU coach Steve Cleveland. "They are a very, very solid team. No comparisons can be made to last year."

In 1997-98, the Spartans were just 3-23 overall. Athletic director Chuck Bell responded by bringing in Arizona assistant Phil Johnson as head coach.

The response, thus far, has exceeded all expectations. San Jose State is off to a 9-7 start and has proven to be competitive in conference play. The Spartans have defeated Fresno State and UTEP, while dropping a one-point overtime decision to nationally ranked New Mexico.

"The hardest job we have is to overcome the feeling of when something bad happens -- like three or four missed shots in a row -- our guys have a tendency to say, 'Here we go again,' " Johnson told the San Jose Mercury News. "At first, I saw a bunch of guys doing that at the first sign of trouble. But we're getting better."

The latest evidence of such came Saturday when the Spartans erased a seven-point deficit in the final 56.3 seconds of regulation en route to a 64-63 overtime win over UTEP. Guard Michael Quinney hit consecutive 3-pointers during the rally.

A few hours later across the Pacific Ocean, BYU capped a comeback of its own when Mekeli Wesley's 3-pointer lifted the Cougars to a 60-59 victory over Hawaii. Lingering excitement from a second consecutive road triumph, however, quickly gave way to preparation.

"My whole focus is on San Jose State. They are very, very good," Cleveland said. "Besides, I don't think you can look beyond anybody in this league."

To do so, he adds, could jeopardize an invitation to the WAC tournament. BYU and San Jose State figure to be among those battling for the final berths in the 12-team competition, slated for March in Las Vegas.

"As satisfying as last week's road wins were, this is a big game because there aren't any easy games in this conference for our basketball team," Cleveland said. "We will have to battle to the end. You can really help yourself by winning your home games."

And for the Cougars, there's no place like home. BYU is 5-2 in the Marriott Center this season. The lone setbacks were close decisions to projected Pac-10 contenders Arizona and California.

The Cougars host Fresno State Saturday night before embarking on a road trip to UTEP and New Mexico next week.

GAME NOTES: The game will not be televised. KSL Newsradio (1160 AM) will provide the only broadcast. . . . BYU leads the all-time series 6-0.