Much of the recent talk about the BYU men’s basketball team has focused on off the court issues, but while no one was paying attention the Cougars have won four conference games in a row and don’t show any signs of stopping. The first half between the BYU Cougars and the Gonzaga Bulldogs saw both teams play at a relatively conservative pace as both sides were slowed by foul trouble. Kyle Collinsworth was called for two quick fouls and sat for long stretches of the first half. However, the Gonzaga advantage was mostly negated by foul trouble on their big man Domantis Sabonis.
Kyle Davis was the saving grace in the first half for BYU, and finished the game with a crucial double-double. Despite foul trouble and no made three pointers in the first half, BYU went into halftime down by only 4. Down by 13 about midway through the first half, Mr. Triple Double himself put the team on his back and helped BYU close the gap to five points with nine minutes left. Chase Fischer hit the first three pointer of the game with 8:30 remaining, up to that point they were 0/12 from deep, despite having some of the top three-ball shooters in the league.
The squads traded buckets for the next seven minutes which included crucial three pointers from Kyle Collinsworth and Nick Emery, both from about the same spot on the wing. Wiltjer, the top free throw shooting in the league, had a chance to tie the game from the free throw line but missed his second, Collinsworth skied for the board but lost his footing and was called for a travel. On the ensuing possession, Nate Austin blocked Wiltjer’s shot and collected the ball while getting shoved out of bounds. Faced with a one and one opportunity, he missed the front end as time ran out.
This is a signature win for a team that has been hurting for one all season, but before we get ahead of ourselves we should acknowledge that this Gonzaga team isn’t even close to last year’s team. Karnowski is out for the season and the loss of Bell and Pangos is hurting them more than most people thought they would. Second, Kyle Wiltjer is amazing, he scored 35 points on the night and collected 10 rebounds. BYU only cooled him off in the waning minutes of the game and it wasn’t a minute too soon. Finally, we all need to take time and enjoy Kyle Collinsworth at the peak of his powers. At halftime he had 2-1-0 due to foul trouble, his final stat line was 20-5-3. If great players make great plays in big games, then he is a great player. The Cougars face Portland on the road on Saturday and then play at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine next week. While on the road, these are all winnable games, which provide a perfect chance for the Cougars to pad their tourney resume before playing in the friendly Marriott Center again. With this win tonight, maybe we should acknowledge last year wasn’t a fluke after all.