BYU is in second place by itself in the West Coast Conference.
Getting there wasn't easy. The Cougars survived a 68-63 outcome at the Marriott Center against San Francisco.
Tyler Haws, who wasn't himself on a 7-of-20 shooting night, made a pair of free throws with about six minutes left — the Cougars' first lead in nearly 13 minutes.
From there, it was about hanging on.
Kyle Collinsworth missed four consecutive free throws over two trips, but freshman center Eric Mika rebounded the last one to set up a new possession with about 35 seconds left and BYU up 67-63.
Matt Carlino missed 1-of-2 after getting fouled quickly. USF missed a 3-pointer, but managed to secure a turnover.
The Dons followed up with missed reverse layup, and coach Rex Walters told his team not to foul again despite BYU's recent misery at the foul line.
BYU still had 19 points from Collinsworth and Haws on a night they combined to miss 20-of-35 shots.
Mika had 13 points and as many rebounds. Nate Austin only had four points (2-of-4 shooting) but was a monster on the glass, a career-high 16 rebounds split evenly between offense and defense.
Matt Carlino (11 points) added a couple of critical 3-pointers in the late stages in his first double-digit scoring game in a few weeks.
The game won't be remembered for scoring, however, as for what happened after missed shots.
USF lost the rebounding battle, 47-29, after getting hammered in the first half as well.
It led to the Dons getting seven fewer shots despite having an eight-percent advantage in shooting (49 to 41).
BYU has won four games in a row, all at home.
The Cougars will head to the road next Thursday to face Pacific followed by a Saturday game at Saint Mary's – where BYU has been drilled in two previous West Coast Conference tries.
BYU has had trouble controlling the pace of play against San Francisco.
Rebounding, however, hasn't been an issue at all.
The Cougars led on the scoreboard, 32-29, after developing a 29-13 margin on the glass — including 12-3 at the offensive end at the Marriott Center.
One miscue helped the Dons pull within three points about 30 seconds before halftime. A missed free throw was followed up with a layup.
BYU missed on a frazzled last possession that finished with Matt Carlino hoisting a 25-foot shot at the buzzer.
Kyle Collinsworth leads BYU with a game-high 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Exemplifying the half, he went 1-for-3 on a single possession. Two jumpers were missed, but rebounded by teammates. He finished with a shot at the rim for an early 11-10 lead.
Despite the rebounding cushion, both teams have taken 30 shots. BYU has made 13, USF 12.
USF has forced nine turnovers and has a 4-0 lead on steals.
The Cougars haven't been helped by star player Tyler Haws going through a 3-of-10 shooting slump in the opening 20 minutes.
USF has been solid at forcing BYU into longer possessions than it would like, especially at home.
The Marriott Center was expected to be at least very close to full for tonight's 7 p.m. tipoff against San Francisco, though that wasn't looking like the case about 10 minutes before tipoff.
Three-dollar tickets promoted a few weeks ago certainly were expected to help, but there's also some high territory at stake.
A win by either team gives it sole possession of second place in the West Coast Conference. BYU has not finished higher than third in its first two seasons of affiliation with the league, so this would be a significant charge.
Both teams enter the game 8-4 in conference play, which will feature 18 games per squad.
Gonzaga may be impossible to catch right now (11-1, playing a non-conference tilt at Memphis tonight) but a win would perhaps give BYU a little more boost before heading on the road to WCC newbie Pacific and nemesis Saint Mary's (lost badly in both previous tries) next week.
San Francisco features a post-oriented offense that has surprised many outsiders by how well it has fared in WCC games, despite another revamped roster for coach Rex Walters.
It seems like whenever the Cougars and Dons get together, it comes down to the wire. Well, unless you consider BYU getting slaughtered in Provo last season (almost a full year to the day) by USF, which went wild with 3-pointers in the second half and scored 99 points on the way to an easy win in the closing minutes.
BYU won another tight game, 83-76, at USF on Jan. 16.
"They're just a really physical team. They play hard for 40 minutes," Haws said following Thursday's Santa Clara game of USF. "They're really good at sharing the ball and making you pay for mistakes on defense. They move that ball around so well, so we have to keep guys in front and close out shooters the right way."
USF won at San Diego on Thursday, which is something that certainly interested BYU.
Not just because BYU wouldn't have an advantage in the standings, but head coach Dave Rose was curious about "the kind of momentum that you're dealing with."
USF has won 4-of-5, the only setback coming Feb. 1 at Gonzaga. BYU meanwhile has won its last three games, all at home.
BYU (16-9, 8-4 West Coast Conference) vs. San Francisco (15-9, 8-4)
7 p.m., Marriott Center
Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)
Tip-ins: Winner has sole possession of second place in the WCC, trailing Gonzaga (11-1). ...BYU lost last year's meeting with USF in Provo, but won earlier this season at USF (83-76) on Jan. 16 and is 4-1 as West Coast Conference affiliates. ...USF has 4 players averaging double digits in scoring, led by 6-7 forward Cole Dickerson (14.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg).