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Kyle Collinsworth’s career game propels BYU past LMU in WCC tourney

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I wanted to be aggressive and tried to get my teammates to do the same. – BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth

LAS VEGAS — Call him Killer Kyle.

It’s been three years since BYU coach Dave Rose had a player dominate a conference tournament game like Kyle Collinsworth did Saturday in BYU’s 85-74 win in the quarterfinals of the WCC tournament at the Orleans Arena. The last player was Jimmer Fredette, who dropped all kinds of bombs on New Mexico inside the Thomas & Mack Center in 2011.

This wasn’t a Fredette zillion-points performance. But it was one guy making a big statement: He wasn’t going to wait for somebody to come to the party in Las Vegas.

Generally, when the Cougars have played in the MWC and WCC postseason events, they’ve been tighter than Robin Hood’s bow, more nervous than a cat caught on I-15.

Not this day.

Collinsworth would have nothing to do with timidity or anxiety. He just rolled up his sleeves and played.

“I wanted to be aggressive and tried to get my teammates to do the same,” he said.

No kidding.

Just after tipoff, Collinsworth quickly marked his territory inside the paint. He dominated the boards at both ends and drove to the hoop like it was a NASCAR straightaway. He did it early and late. LMU players were incapable of stopping him.

The former Provo High star and Utah’s Mr. Basketball had 23 points and 16 rebounds, both career highs. But it was his total disregard for anything LMU tried to do that stood out. Time and time again he soared for offensive putbacks in the opening minutes. He scored BYU’s first two buckets, then made four of BYU’s five field goals to ignite a 14-0 run and 26-10 Cougar lead.

Collinsworth’s big effort offset BYU’s goose egg from 3-point land, 0 for 12, the first time in 18 years that has happened to a Cougar team. That single fact should have sunk the Cougars.

But Collinsworth’s toughness rubbed off on his teammates and they led from start to finish. When LMU fought back from 18 to cut BYU’s lead to seven at halftime, Collinsworth helped seal the win with four of BYU’s last six field goals.

Consider the fact that 22 days ago Collinsworth crashed to the floor at St. Mary’s, writhing in pain and feeling a little terror as he heard something pop and thought he was done.

“It’s a miracle, really,” he said after Saturday’s game. “When I went down I thought my season was over. People don’t know what it's been like to get my knee ready. I’ve been going through a process, spending hours waking up early to go to a pool, getting treatments just to get my knee ready. It still isn’t back all the way and at times today I found myself going up on one leg, protecting the other.”

Who could tell?

Collinsworth never looked tougher.

Collinsworth told reporters afterward that he thought he could help others on the team because he has experience playing on the big stage of the NCAA tournament. That came when BYU made the Sweet 16 with Fredette in 2011. Then a freshman, Collinsworth had 15 rebounds in a double-overtime loss to Florida in New Orleans.

“I was just aggressive all game. I can score the ball and it’s a mindset that I have to open up things for myself and my team. I only wanted to keep attacking, staying aggressive,” he said.

LMU coach Max Good called Collinsworth a “special player” who is “really, really good.”

Until this season, Good had never seen Collinsworth, who spent the past two years serving an LDS mission to Russia. After the game, Good went up to Collinsworth and praised him and told him he’d be in the NBA someday.

“If I’d known how good he was, I’d have had him stay away for three more years,” said Good. “Collinsworth is a handful, a handful. He is a multi-talented player. Some guys can score. Some guys can do this and do that. This guy can play basketball.”

Collinsworth made 10 of 15 field goals. Yes, one of those was a missed 3-pointer, which is not his cup of Postum. But that’s 67 percent from the floor — most on power putbacks or slashing drives. LMU shooting guard Evan Payne couldn’t stop him and forward Nick Stover couldn’t contain him on the wing. Collinsworth had six offensive rebounds and 10 on the defensive end. He hauled down seven boards in the first half and added three steals for the game.

Collinsworth and Co. face a tough challenge Monday in No. 3 seed San Francisco. Don coach Rex Walters told reporters after his win over San Diego that his team was playing the best basketball in the league right now and he was confident they’d be in the finals.

Collinsworth would be hard-pressed to repeat career scoring and rebounding bests Monday.

But a little Kyle the Killer would go a long way to help the cause.

BYU has never won a second-round WCC tournament game.

The watch is on.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.