LAS VEGAS — Postseason basketball is its own world.
With games being played in much closer succession than they are normally done during the regular season, factors such as fatigue and teams getting hot play a bigger role during the postseason.
After seeing BYU play three games in four days during the West Coast Conference tournament, the Cougars painted a clearer picture of themselves as they prepare for what lies ahead.
While the debate rages about whether BYU will be playing in the NCAA tournament or finding itself in the NIT — and will continue until Selection Sunday — here's a look at some things we learned about the Cougars' personnel from the WCC tournament.
Collinsworth is on his game
Right now, Kyle Collinsworth is playing his best basketball of the season. For the tournament, he averaged 18.6 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. In the semifinals against Portland, he recorded his sixth triple-double of the season — tying the NCAA career mark for triple-doubles — and his career-high 28-point effort came against Gonzaga in the championship game.
At this time last year, he suffered a knee injury during the WCC championship game against Gonzaga, knocking him out for BYU's NCAA tournament, which the Cougars lost to Oregon. But Collinsworth is healthy now, and his ability to contribute in so many ways has helped create balance on offense and takes pressure off Tyler Haws in terms of scoring.
That fact was evident especially in the Cougars' final two games of the WCC tournament. In the first 10 minutes against Portland, Collinsworth had six assists. He steadily picked up rebounds and slowly made contributions on the scoreboard, as he scored more in the second half. By the end of the contest, he finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds and 11 of BYU's 19 assists in a 14-point win.
With the Cougars in danger of falling too far behind early against Gonzaga, Collinsworth took on the scoring load and finished the first half with 17 points. While he was struggling with his shot (4 of 12), Collinsworth made 9 of 11 free throws in the first half by constantly driving the lane. He also finished with a team-high five assists and, in a game full of whistles, stayed out of foul trouble and played a game-high 35 minutes.
It's that type of discipline BYU will need going forward.
Guard injuries could wreak havoc
Two of BYU's guards went down with injuries during the conference tournament, and their availability could play a big part as the postseason continues. While Chase Fischer adds an additional weapon beyond Collinsworth and Haws — Fischer averages a team-best 2.9 3-pointers per game — the Cougars are at their best when they get solid offensive production from any combination of four guards.
That's where seniors Skyler Halford and Anson Winder come in. Unfortunately, both were injured during the WCC tournament. On Tuesday, Halford left in the final minute against Gonzaga with what coach Dave Rose called "a lower leg nerve contusion." Winder hurt his knee in BYU's tournament opener against Santa Clara and has been dealing with injury issues for weeks. Despite this, Winder is averaging a career-best 13.1 points per game this season.
With Winder missing most of the tournament, Halford stepped up and provided a scoring punch. During the WCC tourney, he hit 6 of 11 3-pointers — including three in the championship game — and averaged 10.6 points per game coming off the bench. His three 3-pointers against Gonzaga made up half of BYU's makes from beyond the arc, as Haws and Fischer went 0 for 7 from 3-point range.
Just how far can BYU advance without the services of Halford and Winder, or if they're limited? It's a scary proposition for the Cougars.
Kaufusi continuing to learn
Freshman Corbin Kaufusi has been learning on the job — for good and bad — throughout the season as he adjusts to the college game, and that continued in the WCC tournament.
Prior to BYU's venture to Vegas, Kaufusi had never tallied more than six rebounds in a game, though he had reached that mark several times. In the Cougars' three tournament games, Kaufusi's rebound total were seven, six and nine. That included an average of three offensive rebounds per game, led by four against Gonzaga. He also put up 16 points in the first two games of the tourney before going scoreless against the Bulldogs.
On defense, Kaufusi finished with two steals and three blocks in tournament play. But like many of his interior counterparts, he struggled to keep Gonzaga's interior players from going off in the championship, and that led to the Gonzaga trio of Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis combining for 45 points on 57.8 percent shooting.
One particularly damaging stretch for BYU's big men came early in the second half. After Collinsworth drew BYU within 54-52 on a layup, Karnowski was able to easily penetrate inside and hit high-percentage jumpers on Gonzaga's next three possessions. That extended the Bulldogs' lead to 60-52 and the Cougars only pulled with one possession once after that.
How much Kaufusi can continue to learn and grow on the job, while also providing a leadership role inside, will play a determining factor in BYU's postseason fate, as he represents the Cougars' best interior presence.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @brandonljudd