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Can Saturday be a special day — again — for BYU as it visits San Francisco?

It’s a similar matchup to what BYU saw against Santa Clara Thursday. Like the Broncos, the Dons boast talented guards and a variety of physical post players

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San Francisco guard Khalil Shabazz dribbles during game against Arizona State in San Francisco, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022.

San Francisco guard Khalil Shabazz dribbles during game against Arizona State in San Francisco, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. Shabazz, who dropped a career-high 32 points on the Cougars in 2020, has been a nemesis to the Cougars

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — For three consecutive weeks, BYU has dropped its Thursday night game in West Coast Conference play.

The Cougars fell at Loyola Marymount on Jan. 5; suffered a one-point heartbreaker at home against Gonzaga on Jan. 12; and then Santa Clara beat them 83-76 Thursday at the Leavey Center. 

“Guys are going to be bitter and sour on this bus ride up to San Francisco. But we’re going to have to forget about it, get on the floor (Friday), get better and get ready for Saturday.” — BYU guard Rudi Williams on loss to Santa Clara

So once again, BYU is seeking a weekend bounce-back win, which it has done the past two Saturdays with victories at San Diego and at home against Pepperdine.

This time, the Cougars face San Francisco Saturday (6 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network) at War Memorial Gym.

Can Saturday be a special day, again, for BYU? The Cougars are 6-1 on Saturdays this season, including wins over Creighton and Utah.

“We’re going to have to have short-term memory loss,” said Cougar guard Rudi Williams, who scored a team-high 24 points against Santa Clara, including 20 in the second half. “Guys are going to be bitter and sour on this bus ride up to San Francisco. But we’re going to have to forget about it, get on the floor (Friday), get better and get ready for Saturday.”

And it’s a very similar matchup to what BYU saw against Santa Clara. Like the Broncos, the Dons boast talented guards and a variety of physical post players. 

Coach Mark Pope pointed out that it’s a similar look to league-leader Saint Mary’s, too. 

“That challenge is going to present itself again Saturday and it’s going to present itself again when we play Saint Mary’s at home (next week). We’re playing the three most physical teams back-to-back-to-back,” he said. “We’ll see what we’re made of and how fast we can grow.

“We did a poor job preparing the guys for that (Thursday), clearly. We did a poor job at the beginning of the game. I thought the guys really responded as the game went on. Sometimes when you dig yourself a hole, it’s hard. … Our defense can’t let us down like it did (Thursday) in the second half.”

Santa Clara’s Keshawn Justice, Carlos Stewart and Brandin Podziemski combined to score 61 of the Broncos’ 83 points against BYU. 

San Francisco (13-9, 2-5), meanwhile, also boasts three dangerous scorers in Washington State transfer Tyrell Roberts (14.9 ppg), Khalil Shabazz (14.6 ppg) and Zane Meeks (12.5 ppg).

BYU is familiar with Roberts, who scored 11 points and hit three 3-pointers last March for WSU in an NIT quarterfinal victory in Provo against the Cougars.

Shabazz has been a thorn in BYU’s side for years. He scored 22 last year when the Dons knocked the Cougars out of the WCC Tournament. In 2020 at War Memorial Gym, Shabazz poured in a career-high 32 points on 10-of-10 shooting from the field and was 6 of 6 from 3-point range in a win over BYU as the Dons overcame a 14-point second-half deficit. 

Thursday, Meeks scored a game-high 17 in a 78-57 triumph over Pacific. Roberts hit three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points, while Josh Kunen chipped in 13, including 3 of 3 from behind the arc. 

“Super-explosive guards and super-big inside,” Pope said, describing San Francisco. “It’s exactly the same team as Santa Clara. We’ll see the same thing with Saint Mary’s. We’ve got to learn. This is a learning season and we have to find a way to learn how to deal with this physicality and be a team that hits first, not hits second. Then we’ve got to find ways to guard some of these explosive players.”

“They’ve got three good guards as well. They’re pretty big and physical as well, too. That’s going to be another bar fight on Saturday,” Williams said about USF. “We’re going to have to learn a lesson from (Thursday) and bring the fight in the first half and not get punched in the mouth.”

With Thursday’s loss, BYU (14-8, 4-3) fell into a fourth-place tie in the WCC standings with Loyola Marymount, which upset No. 6 Gonzaga 68-67 at The Kennel. The Lions handed the Zags their first WCC loss of the season.

In the process, LMU snapped a bunch of Gonzaga streaks, including 116 straight wins over WCC teams not named BYU or Saint Mary’s. The last time Gonzaga lost to a WCC team other than BYU or Saint Mary’s at home was Santa Clara on Feb. 12, 2007 — a streak of 5,820 days. 

The Zags had won 93 in a row against unranked teams. LMU also ended Gonzaga’s 76-game home win streak. The last time the Lions defeated the Zags in Spokane was 1991. 

As for BYU, last January, the Cougars rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to beat San Francisco at War Memorial.

The Dons are now led by first-year coach Chris Gerlufsen, who replaced Todd Golden. After leading the Dons to the NCAA Tournament last season, Golden took the job at Florida. 

USF’s 12-point win over the Cougars in the WCC Tournament featured a somewhat controversial ending. Guard Jamaree Bouyea’s unnecessary, resounding dunk at the buzzer added insult to injury. Afterwards, Bouyea and Golden offered no apologies. 

“There is no bad blood. It is two really good programs, competing at the same high level, that are going to play all 40 minutes of the game,” Golden said. “I would expect them to do something similar. Not bad blood, but when one of my guys has an opportunity to put a huge exclamation mark on a huge win for our program, one that is probably one of the biggest wins in the last 35 years (it’s understandable). It secures our (NCAA) tournament bid.”

Bouyea now plays for the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA G League.

Though Bouyea and Golden are gone, it should be an emotional battle Saturday as BYU invades historic War Memorial Gym for the final time as members of the WCC. 

BYUSF

Cougars on the air


BYU (14-8, 4-3)
at San Francisco (13-9, 2-5)
Saturday, 6 p.m. MST
War Memorial Gym
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM

Right now, the Cougars simply want to split this Bay Area road trip. Once again, BYU must find a way to forget about another Thursday loss and try to bounce back Saturday. 

“It’s our job. That’s what we do. I’d like to win all the games. But if you lose a game, the only way to have any impact on it is to come back and play better the next day. I don’t think any of us would choose that (losing on Thursdays). But that’s what we have right now,” Pope said. “The only thing we can do is respond and get better.

“It’s massively frustrating but it’s what we’ve signed up for this season. We have to ring the bell and answer it. This is a new lesson we’re learning right now — physicality in league games on the road. It’s a new lesson for this team. Hopefully, we can turn it around in 48 hours and be much better at it.”

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San Francisco guard Tyrell Roberts drives to the basket against Arizona State in San Francisco, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. The Washington State transfer helped dispatch the Cougars from last year’s NIT.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press