SAN FRANCISCO — Just one year into the conference merger, BYU has perhaps frustrated no basketball team more than the one led by Rex Walters.
The former NBA sharpshooter, who returned to his native Bay Area to lead San Francisco, watched his team get hammered in Provo then lose a last-second outcome at home.
And the Dons' angst caused by BYU extended into the offseason, when Walters went after a pair of Cougar connections. He said the team recruited Raul Delgado, a Utah high schooler who went to a Nebraska junior college and wouldn't visit the Bay Area's West Coast Conference counterpart. Delgado's now a reserve guard.
And USF also has gone after Orem recruit Dalton Nixon, whose father, Kevin, played with Walters at Northwestern before both transferred.
USF would like to reciprocate some of those frustrations when the teams meet tonight at Memorial Gym (8 p.m. MST, BYUtv).
"We've been in a lot of games," Walters said of a hit-and-miss season so far. "We don't have any margin for error, and we know BYU is a really good team again. But we played them close here last year and I think the guys will be excited."
As excited as perhaps the Cougars are comfortable.
The talk centering around their first WCC road trip this year is how much more at ease they'll be about all the little details that don't show up in the box score.
Matt Carlino, himself new to playing at BYU last year, pointed out there were many WCC venues where the team hopped off the bus and wasn't immediately sure how to find the locker room.
"It's no excuse for last year," Carlino said of the third-place finish among the nine schools, the lowest conference result in the Rose era. "But it's going to help to be comfortable."
Rose echoed those comments, and his concerns stem all the way to timeouts and late game situations — knowing the opponent's personnel, but also the coach's tendencies.
BYU had played several WCC teams in Rose's first six years, when the Cougars were in the Mountain West Conference. And some of those games were even at WCC venues. But most will agree there's a different energy and expectation that comes with conference games.
Walters understands what BYU was feeling. He's switched jobs a couple of times, including a conference at one point while he was the head coach at Florida Atlantic.
He figures BYU had it even harder, being "really engrained" in the MWC — used to bigger venues and having clearly established rivalries.
"They were really starting all over," Walters said.
The Cougars would like to think they are again this year. They're coming off back-to-back blowouts and have run their record to 11-4 counting Thursday's destruction of Loyola Marymount to begin league play.
All four losses have come away from Provo, though BYU won at Weber State to snap a 20-game home winning streak and also played well early at Baylor on Dec. 21 before folding in large part because of the inability to survive Tyler Haws' foul trouble.
USF is coming off a narrow road loss to improved Santa Clara. The Dons rallied from a double-digit deficit and had two chances at bonus free throws, missing the front end each time, and also a 3-point look that could have cut into a 6-point deficit in the final minutes.
The Dons (7-7, 0-1) lost five transfers from last year's team, basically no surprises, Walters said. It makes revenge a tricky word, because USF doesn't have many players last year that suffered because of BYU.