Can BYU Advance at the Dance Without KC?
Back on Dec. 21, BYU nearly took down then 11th-ranked Oregon on the Ducks’ home court.
The Cougars held the lead for more than 38 of the 40 minutes of regulation. With 2:21 to go, they were up by seven, 83-76, but couldn’t hold off Oregon down the stretch.
The Ducks outscored BYU 8-1 to tie the game at 84 and send it into overtime, where they prevailed 100-96. The loss was a bitter pill for the Cougars to swallow.
It was a game they should have won.
On Thursday, they’ll get a chance for redemption when the two teams meet once again in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Milwaukee.
This time however, the Cougars will be without the services of do-everything guard Kyle Collinsworth, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in BYU’s loss to Gonzaga in the WCC tournament championship game.
Against the Ducks in Eugene, Kyle contributed 15 points, eights assists, five rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal. Less than one year removed from serving as a missionary in Russia, Collinsworth had become one of the most versatile players in college basketball.
Now he’s forced to sit and watch while his teammates try to survive and advance at the Big Dance without him.
“Replacing Kyle–you just can’t do it,” Matt Carlino admitted shortly after learning that he and the Cougars would be dancing for the seventh time in the last eight years.
“We’re all going to have to step up.”
Carlino is chief among those players who will have to step up their play in the absence of “Big Russia”. With him expected to step back in to a starting role against Oregon, the pressure will be on the highly-erratic guard to play one of his best games as a Cougar.
When Matt is on and feeling it, he can be one of the most explosive offensive weapons in the West. When he’s off however, he can be a detriment to his team–which is why he lost his starting job in early January.
To his credit, he responded well to coming off the pine during the second half of the season. His decision making has improved and he’s provided a big lift for BYU off the bench. In Milwaukee, he’ll have to come up big–really big, if the Cougars hope to defeat one of the hottest teams in the PAC-12 without Collinsworth on the floor.
One of the biggest things BYU will miss with Kyle sitting out is his ability to clean the glass. The sophomore leads the team with 8.2 rebounds per game and averaged 11.3 boards during the WCC tournament.
Players like Nate Austin, Eric Mika, Luke Worthington and Josh Sharp will be relied upon to pick up the rebounding slack on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Carlino, who is also a solid rebounder for a 6-2 point guard, may also look to crash the boards on a more frequent basis.
Improved shooting, especially from the three-point line, would also go a long way towards helping to offset the loss of Collinsworth. Traditionally a strong outside shooting team, BYU has struggled to consistently knock down three-point shots the past couple of seasons.
When asked what the Cougars needed to do to come away with a victory against the Ducks, star guard Tyler Haws said simply, “Make more threes.”
Haws (40%) and Anson Winder (42%) are the only Cougars shooting 40 percent or better from the arc this season. Since being elevated into a starting role in the backcourt on Feb. 20 against Gonzaga, Winder has shot 46 percent from three.
He’ll have to continue to have a hot hand from outside, as will Haws, Carlino and Skyler Halford, if the Cougars expect to keep pace with the high-flying quack attack. Oregon puts up 82 points per game and shoots 47 percent from the field, including almost 40 percent as a team from three.
Anson’s perimeter defense has also been a key reason that BYU enters the tournament having won 10 of its last 12 games, and his ability to defend could be key once again on Thursday afternoon.
The Ducks boast two high-scoring, 6-foot-2 guards in Joseph Young and Jason Calliste. Young leads the team, and is third in the PAC-12, scoring 18.6 points per game, while Caliste is one of the top sixth men in the conference with a 12.4-point scoring average.
Caliste went off for a career-high 31 points in the first game against BYU, while Young contributing 25 points to the cause. Winder played just one minute in that game. Expect him to see a lot more time on the court in the rematch.
Both programs bring with them some significant post-season tournament success into the game.
The Ducks advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last year before bowing out to eventual national champion Louisville, while BYU is returning to the tournament this year after missing the dance for the first time in seven seasons last year.
The Cougars advanced to the final four of the NIT in 2013 and made their way to the Sweet Sixteen in 2011. They’ve won at least one game in each of their last three NCAA tournament appearances.
“We feel like we are tournament tested,” Haws said. “I feel like our experience will help us.”
Tip time is scheduled for 1:10 MDT on Thursday and will air live on TruTV.