Provo • With less than two minutes remaining in BYU’s eventual 80-74 loss at Pepperdine on Monday, 6-foot-6 guard Kyle Collinsworth came up with his fifth steal and raced downcourt for a two-handed flush, his second dunk of the second half despite having played all but a couple of minutes in the road game.
A lot of returned missionaries seem to hit a wall about halfway through their first season back from their two-year church service, but Collinsworth clearly has not. So far, there have been no signs of "missionary legs" for the Provo High product who was toiling in Russia at this time last year and didn’t return until last May.
San Diego at BYU
O At Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff » Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV » BYUtv
Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records » BYU 8-7, 0-2 WCC; San Diego 9-6, 0-2 WCC
Series history » BYU leads 6-2
Last meeting » San Diego 72, BYU 69 (March 8, 2013)
About the Toreros » They are on a two-game winning streak over BYU after dropping their first six games against the Cougars. … Guard Johnny Dee leads them in scoring with a 18.9 average, followed by forward Dennis Kramer (11.2 ppg.).… Point guard Chris Andersen averages 6.6 assists per game. … They allow opponents just 62.0 points per game.
About the Cougars » They are back in the Marriott Center for the first time since a 100-52 win over Prairie View A&M on Dec. 11. … They have lost four straight games for the first time in coach Dave Rose’s nine-year tenure. … Guard Tyler Haws leads the WCC in scoring with a 22.0 average.… Freshman center Eric Mika has scored in double figures in 14 straight games.
Kyle Collinsworth’s stats through 15 games:
GP/GS MPG PPG RPG APG SPG
15/15 34.8 13.1 8.3 5.3 1.5
Some struggles at the free-throw line notwithstanding, Collinsworth is quietly having a sensational sophomore season, despite the Cougars’ 0-2 start in the West Coast Conference and 8-7 overall record.
"Kyle played a great game against Pepperdine," coach Dave Rose said. "He was really dialed in on both ends. Defensively in the second half, he was really good. I think that he continues to get better every game he plays."
Despite not picking up a basketball for two years, Collinsworth has emerged as one of the premier stat-sheet fillers in college basketball, leading the team in rebounds (8.3), assists (5.3) and minutes played (34.8) per game while ranking second in steals (1.5) and fourth in scoring (13.1).
Now he’s been asked to switch positions, sliding over to point guard the last three games while regular point guard Matt Carlino has been moved to shooting guard.
"Kyle is a new player, when you consider what he was doing last year at this time," Rose said. ‘I think the time he is getting on the floor, he is taking advantage of it really well."
Collinsworth and the Cougars hope to snap their four-game skid, the longest in Rose’s nine-year tenure, on Saturday night when they play host to a team they struggled with last year, San Diego. The Toreros (0-2, 9-6) ended a six-game losing streak to BYU with a 74-68 win at Jenny Craig Pavilion last February, then eliminated the Cougars 72-69 in the quarterfinals of the WCC tournament in March.
Of course, those USD wins came when "Big Russia" was thousands of miles away, but Rose said Thursday the Toreros are better than they were last year with the addition of guard Duda Sanadze and the improvement of lightning-quick guard Chris Anderson and sharpshooter Johnny Dee, the WCC’s second-leading scorer with an 18.9 average.
"It is a team that has good balance — good outside scoring, good inside scoring," Rose said. "That’s what challenges your defense."
Collinsworth’s challenge now, in addition to regaining his pre-mission form, is learning a new position — although he did play point guard in high school and in spurts his freshman season when he was backing up Jimmer Fredette.
"It is obviously different," he said. "There are a few adjustments I need to make, and with time I will make them."
Rose wouldn’t divulge whether or not he will stick with Collinsworth as his starting point guard, but said the sophomore is "progressing" at the position since taking over there before the 100-96 loss to Oregon and pushing Carlino to the shooting guard spot.
Leading scorer Tyler Haws said the move hasn’t really effected the rest of the offense.
"I mean, those guys [Collinsworth and Carlino] are unselfish dudes and are trying to get other guys involved, and so I just try to play as hard as I can, and whoever is at the point, I just try and live with it," Haws said.
Physically, Collinsworth said his body feels better and stronger every day, thanks to some advice he received from Haws, who went through the same process last year after returning from the Philippines. Haws told him to take it slow and work on his conditioning level before he started playing in pickup games and the like.
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