BYU won nearly three games without Eric Mika.
He missed most of the second half against San Diego, then the Cougars also won home games against Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount.
But Tyler Haws and his teammates don't want to play by that formula — missing their starting freshman center — much longer. And it looks like they won't have to.
Mika has been practicing at a normal rate with the team this week, leading up to Thursday's game at San Francisco. His bruised hip, aggravated Jan. 4 about four minutes into the second half against San Diego, is healing apparently.
"We've got to get him healthy," Haws said after last Saturday's win against LMU, running BYU's winning streak to three games after losing the first two West Coast Conference games (both on the road). "He's a huge part of our team."
It looked briefly like Mika would play last Saturday. He warmed up fully with the Cougars. But coach Dave Rose said "he just wasn't ready to give us what we needed."
This happens to be a huge part of BYU's schedule: Four consecutive road games, two each of the next two weeks.
USF has caused fits to BYU the past two years, though the Cougars have won both meetings at War Memorial Gym. Then comes a Saturday tilt at improved Santa Clara.
The follow week is another Thursday-Saturday set, at Portland, which just ousted WCC master Gonzaga, then the Bulldogs themselves. It's not a span of games for the meek, but a Mika is necessary.
"Eric is feeling better," Rose told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "He practiced a little bit (Monday), and today was into practice full-time. So unless he has a setback tonight, we anticipate him having a good practice tomorrow and playing on Thursday - that's what we're hoping."
The last two games, Nate Austin moved from power forward to center. That's not his ideal spot.
Josh Sharp thrived in two rare starting chances, including 10 points and four rebounds (he was drastically undersized at center at times) against LMU.
BYU's at least been able to find "hot hands" and good play despite missing Mika, who averages 13.9 points (third on the team) and 6.4 rebounds (third).
The only thing holding back Mika, it seems, is foul trouble. He has 50 fouls (second to only Nate Austin's 62) and two foul-out disqualifications.
Rose was eager to get back "another body" to alleviate depth issues. But that comment also implies the former Lone Peak High standout is more than just a somebody.
"We need Eric to play well, and the last couple of times on the road he has been in foul trouble, so hopefully sitting and watching for a couple of games might help him mentally," Rose said. "He might have picked up a couple of things from a different point of view. The most important thing is that he is healthy - that's what we hope."
The Cougars have lost their last five true road-court games, a span going back to Nov. 11 at Stanford.
"We have to do what we do here," guard Matt Carlino said of the Marriott Center, "and bring it on the road. We play way differently in here."
BYU and USF are both 11-7 overall. The Dons, despite a revamped roster and the loss of standout point guard Cody Doolin early in the season, are 4-2 in league play.
"Eric's a huge boost for us," Rose said.