BYU basketball: Collinsworth injury forces Cougars to reinvent themselves again
Milwaukee • The coincidence was hard to overlook.
At about the same time the BYU Cougars were boarding a charter flight bound for Milwaukee on Tuesday morning, their second-leading scorer and perhaps best overall player was scheduled to undergo knee surgery at a Provo hospital.
Sophomore star Kyle Collinsworth has already been missed, and the Cougars have yet to play a game without him. That happens on Thursday, when 10th-seeded BYU lines up against seventh-seeded Oregon (23-9) at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in an NCAA Tournament Round of 64 game.
Tipoff will be at approximately 1:10 p..m. MDT and the game will be televised by truTV, part of the Turner Broadcasting Network.
"Emotionally, it has been tough because we lose such a big part of our team," said guard Anson Winder, who will be expected to pick up some of Collinsworth's scoring and rebounding work. "He does so much for us, and to come in to practice without him is an unreal feeling."
Simply, the Cougars (23-11) have to reinvent themselves, coach Dave Rose said.
"We practiced a couple of times now without Kyle, and basically I have said this for quite a while about why I am so proud of this team," Rose said Sunday night. "It is because of how resilient they have been over the year. We have reinvented ourselves a couple of times."
This could be Rose's biggest project yet, rivaling the one he performed three years ago when star forward Brandon Davies was booted with two games remaining in the regular season.
Tyler Haws is still BYU's marquee player, and the nation's seventh-leading scorer with a 23.4 average. But Collinsworth was the glue, the player who made his teammates better with his all-around game. Collinsworth started every game since returning from a church mission to Russia and was averaging 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists, both team-highs, before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the second half of the West Coast Conference championship game against Gonzaga.
The Cougars were trailing by 20 at the time and cut the deficit to eight before losing by 11, and point to that rally as proof they can play well without one of their captains.
"Well, the main thing is the character of the players," Rose said. "We will draw on the fact that these are quality guys. And they are talented players. And we need to find their best basketball right now â¦ These lights are bright in this tournament. That's the beautiful thing about playing in the NCAA Tournament, is that it feels really special. It is different, and hopefully our guys can perform at their best in those bright lights."
It is no small coincidence that the player who will start in Collinsworth's place at point guard, Matt Carlino, is the one who started the season in that spot.
Rose slid Carlino over to the shooting guard spot and made Collinsworth the point guard after the 81-64 loss at Utah and before the Cougars took Oregon to overtime before losing 100-96.
BYU's high-scoring offense never looked better than on that Dec. 21 night. After two games, more reinvention was needed, and Skyler Halford was inserted into the lineup, with Carlino coming off the bench.
After a 60-57 win at Saint Mary's on Feb. 15, more tinkering was needed because the Cougars were getting off to abysmal starts and starting freshman center Eric Mika was getting into early foul trouble. So Rose put Winder back into the starting lineup for defensive reasons and started bringing Mika off the bench.
"We have found different ways to make this work with our guys, and we are going to have to do that again," Rose said. "I think the real positive thing that we can hang our hat on here and expect good results is that we are trying to reinvent this group with experienced guys."
No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 BYU
P At BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee
Thursday, 1:10 p.m. MDT
TV • truTV