Provo • There might not be a player on the BYU basketball team more polarizing than Matt Carlino. The junior guard’s mercurial play has earned him fans and detractors alike.
In Saturday night’s 68-63 win over San Francisco that gave BYU sole possession of second place in the West Coast Conference, there was not a Cougar more valuable.
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Sure, Nate Austin grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds, Kyle Collinsworth and Tyler Haws combined for 38 points and Eric Mika had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
But it was Carlino, the flashy transfer from UCLA who lost his starting spot 11 games ago, who made the big 3-point shots, came up with three key steals and energized a BYU offense that always struggles against San Francisco because the Dons almost always take away the Cougars’ transition game.
Carlino was just 3-for-9 from the field and 2-for-4 from the free-throw line for 11 points, but he posted nine assists with no turnovers and provided the team’s only points off the bench.
"A team at times can kind of doubt themselves, but Carlino didn’t let them do that," Walter said. "He stepped up."
Carlino entered the game at the 14:08 mark with BYU trailing 10-9 and got the Cougars out to a 21-14 lead.
He made two big 3-pointers when the lead seesawed midway through the second half, then delivered the knockout blow with 2:34 remaining, a 3-pointer after Collinsworth rebounded Haws’ 13th missed shot.
"It was huge. It changed the momentum of the game. I thought they were starting to come back a little bit. But Kyle got that board and Matt buried the 3. As soon as Matt shot it, I knew [it was in]. I was heading back on defense, because I knew it was going in," Austin said. "Matt always comes up clutch. He is a clutch player and basically a starter coming off the bench. That’s what we need right now, a key guy coming off the bench and giving us huge points like he has, game in and game out."
It was the first time since he put 25 points on Portland that Carlino has reached double figures, but that doesn’t mean he was totally ineffective in that span of four games. His assist-to-turnover ratio, 121-55, is the best for a season in school history. And the Cougars simply play faster when Carlino is in the game.
"I was just doing what I can, you know, trying to control the team, trying to get us in our sets. I had some open looks, so that was pretty much it," Carlino said.
Despite the demotion and slight reduction in playing time, Carlino’s attitude has remained positive, coach Dave Rose said. One play in particular Saturday night symbolized that. With 3:30 remaining and the Cougars leading 61-58, USF’s Avry Holmes made a steal and raced downcourt for what could have been an easy layup.
However, Carlino tracked him down and stole the ball back.
"Matt is playing hard. I mean, he wanted to win. You could tell. He got in there and found a gear where he could really compete in this game," Rose said. "He really challenged that steal. … It was a great play by not giving up on the play, that’s for sure."
Having won four straight at home, the Cougars venture back out on the road again this week, with a Thursday night game at Pacific (4-8, 13-10) followed by Saturday’s showdown in Moraga, Calif., with third-place Saint Mary’s (8-4, 18-7).
"It is going to take the same kind of effort in every game we play from now on [to win]," Rose said. "Our guys are going to have to give second, third, fourth efforts to try and get a win in this league."
Pacific defeated Loyola Marymount 82-72 on Saturday night behind a career-high 22 points from T.J. Wallace, who was 6-for-8 from 3-point range. Since losing 88-78 at BYU on Jan. 30, the Tigers have won at San Diego 84-67, lost at Pepperdine 80-69 and won at LMU. They are no longer in last place in their first season in the WCC.
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