SANTA CLARA, Calif — For the first time in a while, sitting courtside at a place other than the Marriott Center, BYU coach Dave Rose wore the look of someone who wasn't ready to get back home.
Which is a good thing, because BYU needed road wins like the one Thursday night and it has to stay on the road with Saturday night's chance to double up on the away-from-Provo success at Santa Clara (7 p.m. local time).
"Every game's a conference championship right now," Kyle Collinsworth said.
And that may be a big part of the excitement of Rose and his players: They're in the hunt again.
They've spent basically the last two years out of it, finishing third in the West Coast Conference upon this new voyage after considerably more success in the Mountain West.
This year didn't start well, either, with two WCC road losses (Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine) right before the turn of the new year.
But BYU's found its groove, and that means playing some meaningful games again.
They aren't against ranked teams, like the gauntlet early in the season, but right now the Cougars are in second place (4-2), one game behind Gonzaga (5-1) which owns an unexpected road loss at Portland, where BYU plays next Thursday.
But that's then, this is now.
A few BYU players and staff mingled in the quaint lobby of War Memorial Gym late after Thursday's win, BYU's third in a row at USF — but more importantly it snapped a four-game road losing streak this season.
As Rose conducted his post-game KSL Radio duties, guard Matt Carlino returned to the floor and struck up conversation with a few Dons personnel.
Carlino's post-game pleasantries are matched by his comfort in his hybrid role as a backup point guard who's capable of playing starter's minutes, like the 27 at USF that included a 10-point first half that included a couple of 3-pointers.
"I'm just playing," Carlino said. "Whatever coach wants, that's what I'm going to be."
So outspoken (even to media) about how he didn't enjoy playing the shooting-guard spot, which would've kept him in the starting lineup, Carlino's back thriving as a point guard.
The starter there is playing some fine ball, too.
Kyle Collinsworth wasn't talked about much in the offseason, not even at an October media day in Los Angeles. WCC coaches aren't exactly accustomed to returned missionaries.
"The same thing happened the year before," Rose said, alluding to Tyler Haws returning from church service to again make a basketball impact — even greater than during a freshman year. "I think both of these guys, coming home, have done a good job of adjusting to the new league and playing at a high level."
Collinsworth didn't have an assist at USF on a night BYU only produced five.
But over the course of six conference games (BYU is 12-7 overall, 4-2 in league play) he's averaging 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and nearly six assists.
"Kyle's getting better and better, and better every game," Rose said.
Most impressive, the ninth-year coach said, was that Collinsworth continued to play "at a pace that was really helping his team" despite early second-half foul trouble.
The only part of BYU that still needs some tweaking may be freshman center Eric Mika. Granted, he's been dealing with a bruised him and an injured hamstring, and he appeared to tweak an ankle at USF.
"I think his knee's bothering him," said Carlino.
Whatever the case, Mika played only 11 first-half minutes, and that was with no foul trouble. He had spurts where he looked like his old self. But in the second half, he still fouled out with about 3 1/2 minutes left and looked hobbled again.
"We need him out there," Carlino said.
And the Cougars presumably need to stay in the area, too.
Santa Clara's Leavey Center is another place BYU has won the last two seasons, by an average of nearly 17 points.
There are other Bay Area perks, too.
The Cougars have been treated to 70 degrees and sunshine throughout their trip, and a bus ride across the Golden Gate Bridge on Friday on the way to a new hotel.
The team also practiced in Oakland on Friday afternoon at the downtown workout facility of the NBA's Golden State Warriors (they were playing in Oklahoma City that night).
BYU (12-7, 4-2 West Coast Conference) at Santa Clara (10-10, 3-4)
7 p.m. PST, Leavey Center (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)
TV: TWC SportsNet/ROOT NW/RM Sports
Tip-ins: BYU is on a 4-game winning streak; Santa Clara has lost 2 in a row, including Thursday at home against San Diego (69-66). ...SC coach Kerry Keating's record is 110-111, the 2nd game in a row BYU has faced a coach needing a win that night to get back to .500. ...The Broncos are led by 6-foot guard Brandon Clark (17.6 ppg).