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BYU more potent down the stretch with healthy Anson Winder

PROVO — Is BYU peaking at the right time?

The more accurate question is, have the Cougars got the right body count to hit a peak?

Somewhere in the final home-court glory that featured Tyler Haws’ impressive 28 points and Kyle Collinsworth’s double-double Thursday was the reappearance of senior Anson Winder in that win over San Diego.

It was not a small detail.

For Dave Rose, having Winder in his arsenal is critical.

When Winder missed back-to-back games on the road at Saint Mary’s and San Diego in mid-January, the Cougars lost 82-77 and 77-74. That road trip has essentially kept the Cougars out of second place in the WCC.

Today, the Cougars are suddenly on a four-game winning streak and climbing in the RPI. Ken Pomeroy has BYU ranked 31st, ahead of all Pac 12 teams but No. 3 Arizona and No. 4 Utah.

“We are feeling good and have won four in a row but we are still hungry," Rose said. "We feel like we have a lot to prove and in a lot of ways we feel like our tournament has already started. We have to bring it every time we step on the floor. I feel like we are in a good spot but we are still hungry to keep going.”

Winder did not play in BYU’s previous two games due to a pulled groin muscle. That came following that two-game stretch in January when he sat out with a sore knee.

Winder really does complete this ever-changing 21-8 BYU jigsaw team that is on the bubble for extended NCAA play.

If he’s in the lineup and healthy, BYU is a different team.

Winder is an “X” factor for Rose whose team features two remarkable performers in the indefatigable Haws and resolute Collinsworth. Winder has had a career of patience, role-playing and support and has come into his own this season.

Last Thursday, Winder came, he saw and he delivered when no other BYU player on the floor could in the first seven minutes of that game. He penetrated, he got his hands on the ball, he finished at the rim; he made a key 3-pointer and he guarded like a bone-protecting Rottweiler.

With Winder on the floor, BYU came from behind to lead by five at halftime. Starting the second half, BYU exploded for an easy win. “Anson actually got us going,” said Haws. “He got a few buckets early, and we fed off his energy.”

Just like Haws and other honored seniors like Skyler Halford and Josh Sharp, Winder showed up at the Marriott Center Thursday for the blanket ceremony and senior salute. For the third straight game, he did not start.

Then he was needed.

Rose got an unexpected 30 minutes out of him. He needed all of it.

This is Winder, his life as a Cougar. And he will be sorely missed.

In his last home game, Winder made 5-of-7 shots from the field and 5-of-6 from the line for 15 points. But his presence was much more. San Diego, which had beat the Cougars a month ago, was basically sloughing off to just guard Haws and Collinsworth.

Rose said Winder provided a needed spark.

I’d say he was a blow torch, scoring a point every two minutes in a game Chase Fischer and Halford finished 1-for-8 from the field.

This is typical Winder.

He came in and scored BYU’s first basket of the game after seven embarrassing minutes of the Cougars flailing on ESPNU as the nation’s leading scoring team — which couldn’t score.

Winder.

It’s tough to predict how this Cougar team will finish on the road next week or how it will fare in the WCC tournament in Las Vegas the following weekend.

But if Winder’s body is available and he’s healthy, BYU’s chances to succeed are far better than if he is not.

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