Portland, Ore. • The Cougars had just suffered their most embarrassing loss in several seasons, an 81-64 setback at rival Utah that wasn’t really that close. Discontent was visible publicly at that game, and in practices, because an offense that was supposed to be one of the best in the nation simply was not clicking.
It was especially ineffective in halfcourt sets. Opponents were dropping four players back after shots to take away BYU’s bread-and-butter transition game.
Something had to be done.
BYU coach Dave Rose’s answer was to make the 6-foot-5 Kyle Collinsworth the starting point guard. Matt Carlino, pretty much the Cougars’ starting point guard since he transferred from UCLA and became eligible 11 games into the 2011-12 season, was moved to the shooting guard spot.
The first three games with Collinsworth at the point were losses at Oregon, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, but poor free-throw shooting and defensive lapses were more to blame than bad offense.
Then the Cougars finally got a string of three home games to restore their confidence and work out some of the kinks, including Carlino’s new role.
Skyler Halford became the starting two-guard after Carlino proclaimed he was not comfortable playing without the ball in his hands, and Carlino became Collinsworth’s backup.
The moves just might have saved BYU’s season.
The Cougars (5-2, 13-7) take a five-game winning streak into the most important road trip in recent memory, beginning Thursday at Portland and continuing Saturday at West Coast Conference-leading Gonzaga.
“Well, we felt like Kyle was doing a great job in the backup [point guard] role, even though he was starting at the two,” Rose explained. “We got ourselves in a couple situations early in games where we just didn’t feel like we were in control of the game like we wanted to be. And so I think that is when we started to lean toward Kyle a little bit.”
The Cougars scored 84 points at Oregon in regulation, 12 in overtime. The change was taking root, paying dividends. Last Saturday at Santa Clara, they scored 91 points and shot 61.5 percent from the field, a season high.
“Well, I think it has done a lot for our team,” said leading scorer Tyler Haws. “It has helped us play more together, I think. And Matt has done a great job coming off the bench. He is is playing more the right way, and sharing the ball. I think everyone feels comfortable with Kyle at the point.”
Unburdened, Carlino is flourishing. He is taking better shots, defending better, and moving the ball better when he is playing. He is still getting starter’s minutes, or close to it.
“I am not fighting for anything,” Carlino said Tuesday when asked if he is fighting to get his starting job back. “I am trying to play my best, trying to get better every day. I think it is all about improving, just going out there and doing what I do.”
Having made three 3-pointers in each of his last three games, and averaging 15 points and five assists per game in his last four games, Carlino has seemingly caught on to the team-first approach that Rose preaches.
“I mean, I am not expecting anything,” he said.
“Whatever minutes I get, I am good with it. It is coach’s decision. So if he plays me two minutes or 32 minutes, it is up to him.”
Rose said Collinsworth’s size has made for better post-entry passes. He has drawn double teams, freeing up his teammates for open shots.
“We were looking for ways to try and improve all of the players individually,” Rose said of the move.
“I think the way these guys have responded [has been good]. We have gotten more quality minutes out of Skyler, we have gotten a lot more quality minutes out of Matt, a lot more quality minutes out of Josh [Sharp], and that’s been the difference.”
BYU at Portland
O At the Chiles Center, Portland
Tipoff • Thursday, 8 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports NW/RM
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 13-7 (5-2); Portland 11-8 (3-4)
Series history • BYU leads, 9-0
Last meeting • BYU 86, Portland 72 (Feb. 16, 2013)
About the Pilots • They have started the same five players in all 19 of their games. … They have lost their four WCC games to BYU by an average of 15.2 points per game. … They are led in scoring by 6-foot-5 guard Kevin Bailey (17.2 ppg.) and in rebounding by 6-7 forward Ryan Nicholas (9.2 rpg.). .. They are coming off a 76-65 loss at Pepperdine.
About the Cougars • They have won five straight games after starting WCC play with two straight losses. … Guard Matt Carlino has made three 3-pointers in each of his last three games and is shooting 56.3 percent from deep and 53.3 percent from the field in that stretch. … Point guard Kyle Collinsworth has scored in double figures in 18 of 20 games this season.