PROVO — In a split second, BYU’s season nearly took a turn for the worse last Saturday in the first half at St. Mary’s.
That's when Cougar guard Kyle Collinsworth fell hard to the floor, landing awkwardly on his right leg while attempting to haul in a long rebound. Collinsworth remained on the floor for several minutes, holding his knee and writhing in pain.
“I heard it pop, so I thought I tore (a knee ligament),” Collinsworth recalled. “I hit the floor so hard that it caused a deep bone bruise. I heard it snap. I thought maybe that was it for the season.”
After several anxious moments, Collinsworth walked off the court and into the locker room to be examined and treated.
Amazingly, Collinsworth returned to the game later that half, and helped lead the Cougars to a dramatic victory over the Gaels. He finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists.
After being restricted in practice earlier in the week due to the injury, the sophomore guard participated in a full practice Wednesday on the eve of BYU’s big West Coast Conference showdown Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2) against No. 25 Gonzaga.
Collinsworth counts himself fortunate that he's still able to play.
“I’ve been working on my flexibility since I got back (from an LDS Church mission last spring),” Collinsworth said. “The doctors said that had a huge part of it, being flexible, and it didn’t tear. I got lucky. It’s a big blessing.”
No doubt, the Cougars need Collinsworth to have a shot at knocking off the Bulldogs.
Coach Dave Rose was happy to see Collinsworth back on the court at Wednesday's practice.
“He looked pretty good. He looked a little bit slow,” Rose said. “But he wasn’t favoring (the knee) at all, which is a good sign. Hopefully, he has a good response to it and (Thursday) he’s ready to go. It was good having him in practice today.”
“Kyle kind of surprised me (at practice),” said guard Tyler Haws. “It seems like the knee is doing really well. He’ll be ready to go.”
When asked how is knee is feeling, he replied, “Pretty good. Good enough to play." He added that he’s about “90 percent” healthy.
BYU has lost five consecutive games to first-place Gonzaga, including an 84-69 setback in Spokane, Wash., last month.
Collinsworth said his team will try to build on that emotional win at St. Mary’s last Saturday.
“I really believe every game that we play we can win," he said. "I try to carry that mindset with our team, that we can win (Thursday). In the second half, we had that mindset at St. Mary’s. That mindset is huge.”
A victory over Gonzaga would certainly bolster BYU’s NCAA tournament at-large hopes.
What would a win mean to the Cougars?
“It would mean that we’re still going in the right direction, that we’re getting better and better every game,” said forward Nate Austin. “After playing them last time, we see that they’re a beatable team. Obviously, they’re a very, very good team. But they’re beatable. If we can get the win, it shows that our program’s going in the right direction.”
Haws said his team knows what it’s going to take to beat the ‘Zags.
“We have to consistently score for 40 minutes, and we’ve got to lock in and guard the 3-point line a lot better than we did at their place," he said. "That kind of got away from us.”
BYU is happy to be playing Gonzaga at the Marriott Center this time around.
“We don’t have any pressure on us. We’re just going out there trying to win a basketball game,” Haws said. “We love playing in front of our home crowd, and our guys feed off the energy and feel a lot more comfortable at home.”
MIKA’S ‘CHOKE’ SIGN ADDRESSED: At the end of the St. Mary’s game, freshman forward Eric Mika flashed a “choke” sign to the crowd.
It’s something that Rose addressed with Mika.
“We had quite a long conversation,” Rose said. “It’s disappointing, and I think he understands that his reaction to some harassing fans was not appropriate.”
WORTHINGTON UPDATE: Freshman forward Luke Worthington suffered a shoulder injury in the second half at St. Mary’s.
What’s his status for Thursday?
“Luke’s shoulder is really sore,” Rose said. “He’ll try to play. He has a sprain that is causing him limited range of motion. But it was better (Wednesday). Hopefully (Thursday) he’ll feel a lot better.”
No. 25 Gonzaga (23-4, 13-1) at BYU (18-10, 10-5)
Thursday, 9 p.m., MST
Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM