Eric Mika, as expected, returned to BYU's starting lineup at San Francisco.
But it was Matt Carlino's team-high 10 points off the bench that kept the visiting Cougars in contention. They trail, 37-34.
Carlino made 4-of-5 shots, including a quick five-point burst when he first entered about nine minutes into the West Coast Conference game at War Memorial Gym.
Both teams have made 14 shots, and BYU has produced one more shot (33) despite getting out-rebounded, 27-13 — including 10-4 at the offensive end.
Cole Dickerson, USF's best scorer this year, leads the Dons with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Tyler Haws has nine points for BYU. Mika is 1-of-3 from the field. He had a quick blocked shot and basket early in the game. He only has one foul but played just 11 minutes as conditioning appears to be an issue coming off a sore-hip injury that left him out of the past two games.
Is War Memorial Gym anything special?
No and yes.
No, because it's like several other gymansiums in the West Coast Conference in which the assumption by using the word "arena" may be too big of a word.
WMG has had significant upgrades but still carries the feel of a high school gym, quite frankly — bleachers throughout both sides.
What makes it stand out a little more than its league contemporaries, besides being the oldest WCC venue (1958), is what makes the University of San Francisco stand out as a whole.
Several WCC campuses are somewhat sprawling by city standards. USF is packed in there, in a beautiful part of the city (folks call it the Hilltop). The gym itself is fairly non-descript from the outside. Former BYU baseball coach Vance Law once told me I'd have to see the USF baseball field to believe it. Yes, it's jammed in there, too. He's right: On a corner lot, you pretty much could stand in the dugout and trip a runner coming around the bases.
But back to is it special...
Yes, and yes in the BYU basketball sense.
The Cougars have produced a funky road-court rivalry in their two years of visiting USF. They've won the two meetings by a combined five points. They've been wildly entertaining games that even the losing coach, Rex Walters, has appreciated.
And the venue is also special to Matt Carlino, who has thrived in two trips there.
Carlino had 22 points and BYU won by four last Jan. 5. USF missed a game-tying layup in the closing seconds. Carlino rebounded, and made both free throws.
As a freshman (Feb. 16, 2012) he had a career-high 30 and almost single-handedly salvaged a win with his second-half brilliance.
He scored the final two points on a layup with 18.9 seconds left to produce an 85-84 win.
In two visits, Carlino has been worth the price of admission for either BYU or USF fans that may wonder if fighting traffic for tonight's 6 p.m. tipoff is worth it.
He's hit 21-of-34 shots and gone 6-of-13 from 3-point range, not to mention seven assists compared to four turnovers.
Now, the "special" question again: Can Carlino be it despite his new role?
It doesn't appear that Carlino will be starting anytime soon, as Skyler Halford has played well going from sixth man to starting shooting guard (despite an 0-for-5 shooting performance last Saturday).
Carlino played "under control" — to use coach Dave Rose's words — better than perhaps at any point all season, especially at home.
"Carlino coming off the bench," said USF coach Rex Walters, "adds another dimension to them."
Walters said there was no fear of losing track of Carlino, if he is still the sixth man.
"Our players know Matt Carlino, don't worry," Walters said with a laugh. "That's not going to be a concern. He's a high-major point guard, shooting guard as far as we see it....Our guys are going to be very aware."
Walters said one other thing worries him about Carlino's new role:
"To replace a guy like him, you must have a pretty good other guard," he said.
BYU (11-7, 3-2 West Coast Conference) at San Francisco (11-7, 4-2)
6 p.m. PST, War Memorial Gym (San Francisco, Calif.)
Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)
Tip-ins: BYU has won the last 2 seasons at USF (as WCC mates) by a total of 5 points. ...The Dons are led by 6-7 forward Cole Dickerson (13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg). ...BYU freshman center Eric Mika, who has missed the last 2 games (bruised hip), is expected to play; it's unclear if he'll start, though likely. ...Former BYU standout Jackson Emery will join Greg Wrubell on the radio call.