Kyle Collinsworth is sick. Horribly sick. The kind of sick where it sucks to lift up your head to drink water — even that is draining.
While illness is never convenient, this was the worst timing.
Collinsworth, honored as the West Coast Conference’s best player, is the senior captain of his BYU basketball team. His squad has to play a quarterfinal in the National Invitational Tournament against the Big East’s talented Creighton Blue Jays. The Cougars haven’t played a game without Collinsworth as the starting point guard in 68 games — since Kyle tore his ACL against Gonzaga in the 2013 West Coast Conference Tournament.
It wasn’t that the team leader in assists, rebounds and steals flu was going to completely sideline Collinsworth. It just left everyone — fans, teammates, coaches, himself even — unsure of what the Cougars most important player could give them in this do or die game. As such, in this legend’s final game in front of the Marriott Center fans, he would come into the game off the bench.
Recognizing the challenge of a limited Collinsworth, everybody stepped up to the test.
Nick Emery, a freshman, played his first (and only) game playing the majority of his minutes as a point guard. He finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. That looks like a stat line that Collinsworth would have produced.
Zac Seljaas, a freshman, started his first (and only) game in his career. Seljaas shot 5-for-6 from distance and added a perfect 4-for-4 from the line to lead BYU in scoring with 19 points. He added a team high in rebounds with 7 grabs off the glass.
Chase Fisher led the way defensively. He held Creighton star guard Mo Watson Jr to 3-for-10 shooting and just 9 points. Fisher also had 3 steals. Chase worked his way to 15 points.
Kyle Davis was a dream on the inside offensively. 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
Corbin Kaufusi added 3 blocks, stayed out of foul trouble and put up 7 points.
It wasn’t just Collinsworth’s teammates picking up the slack. The Marriott Center audience lifted their game that night. Of course, the crowd would be engaged for a game with a good opponent and stakes. This was different.
In every way that they could, BYU fans tried to lift and influence the game with an uncommon urgency.
The Cougars would pick up some momentum after another Seljaas 3 forced a timeout from Creighton head coach Greg McDermott. Usually, the crowd quieting timeouts work. That’s why coaches call them. But not on this night. The boys needed us to raise our game — Kyle Collinsworth was limited by the flu. Everyone could all see it.
Collinsworth’s demeanor was always pretty steady. He was playing hard, but you didn’t see the stress of his play on his face. His exhaustion was never apparent. After each triple double, Kyle would walk off the floor the same way he walked onto it.
The only time Collinsworth ever looked physically drained was against Creighton. The change in the way he carried himself was fascinating to observe. It gave me a stronger appreciation of how much energy Collinsworth played with.
Collinsworth gave it his best for 20 minutes. He scored 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. BYU needed every bit of his effort and Kyle was doing all he could to give his all. I’ll never forget the way Collinsworth acted during free throws that night.
On a usual night, Collinsworth, an excellent rebounder, would line up on the lane and try to battle on the blocks. Against Creighton in the 2nd half, Collinsworth stayed well back by the free throw line on the opposite end of the floor. He would slump down by sitting on his ankles with his knees pressed up into his chest. Then he would place both of his hands on the floor. He’d relax his neck by sinking his head which would be left hanging.
Collinsworth was shown the jumbotron like this and it could be seen that Kyle was also closing his eyes during the free throws. Listening to the crowd to know whether the shot was made or missed.
He was doing everything to draw and conserve the energy he was going to need to play high level college basketball.
In the end, Collinsworth, his teammates, his coaches, and his fans had done enough. BYU defeated Creighton, 88-82.
For me, this is the game I’ll always think about first when I think about Kyle Collinsworth. It was the night where I gained a true appreciation for his unbelievable career. Collinsworth is the only member in (at least) the last 25 years of college basketball’s 1500 points-1000 rebounds-500 assists club.
No Y player has ever done the variety of skills on the floor as well as Kyle Collinsworth. He was a tremendous athlete that finished 2nd in career minutes played despite suffering an ACL tear. He is one of the 10 best players to ever wear a BYU jersey.
After the Creighton game, I feel pretty confident in saying that there hasn’t been a player that has exerted more energy over their career toward winning BYU basketball games than Kyle Collinsworth. On the one occasion Kyle didn’t have the vitality, on his last appearance in the Marriott Center, everyone raised theirs to help the Cougars win. After all, we owed it to Collinsworth to do so. It was everyone’s way of saying, “Thank You.”