MILWAUKEE — BYU guard Matt Carlino has never lived here, but he feels right at home in this town.
His roots run deep in Milwaukee. Carlino’s mom grew up here, and his uncle, Brian Brunkhorst, starred at Marquette in the 1960s.
“I’ve been here quite a bit,” Carlino said Wednesday. “My uncle’s name is on the front of the Al McGuire Center at Marquette where we practiced (Tuesday). His name’s on the wall.”
As the No. 10 seed Cougars meet No. 7 Oregon Thursday (1:10 p.m. MDT, truTV) at the Bradley Center, Carlino would love etching his name into BYU basketball lore by helping the Cougars stage an upset over the Ducks in the NCAA tournament.
The junior point guard could be the key to BYU's chances of advancing.
Thursday, Carlino will be making his first start since Dec. 30, taking the spot of star Kyle Collinsworth, who has undergone season-ending knee surgery.
BYU is looking for several players to fill that void — particularly Carlino, who has had more than 70 career starts.
A year ago, Carlino was a major factor in helping BYU reach the National Invitation Tournament semifinals by averaging 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Can he get hot at the right time again?
“I hope so,” Carlino said. “That really helped us out last year. Whatever I can do to help the team out. If I can do that, it would be big-time.”
Against the Ducks, Carlino will be counted on to run the offense, make shots and be an efficient distributor.
“This Oregon team is so long and so athletic and they’re just really quick to everything,” said coach Dave Rose, “and Matty is going to try to do a really good job of finding our guys at the right time so they can be able to score.”
In a 100-96 overtime loss at Oregon in December, Carlino scored 15 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out four assists. He was 5-of-17 from the field, with a pair of 3-pointers.
How important is Carlino to the Cougars, especially with Collinsworth out?
“He’s big with or without Kyle,” said guard Skyler Halford. “We always need Matt to step up and hit some big shots, take care of the ball for us and do a good job of facilitating and finding open guys. Matt will really be big in this tournament.”
In early January, Rose shook up his starting lineup, deciding to have Carlino come off the bench. It proved to be a shrewd move.
“Personally, I think Matt has had his best season since he’s been here,” Rose said. “When you come off the bench as a sixth-man, it seems from a public opinion or a media opinion that maybe his season has been tarnished, but in reality I think his play has been so consistent and so steady for our team that he’s been a huge factor in our success. We need Matt to play well for our team to be successful.”
When asked what he learned from the West Coast Conference tournament that will help the Cougars in this tournament, Carlino replied, “Make more threes.”
Carlino hit just 1-of-14 3-pointers in the WCC tournament. As a team, BYU was only 6-of-35 on 3-point attempts.
“It will be important, especially because that’s such a big part of our offense, especially now with Kyle out, we’ll probably shoot a little bit more threes,” said guard Anson Winder. “We didn’t shoot as well as we would like in the conference tournament. We’re trying to get our confidence up and hopefully shoot better in this tournament.”
BYU will need consistent 3-point shooting from Carlino, Winder and Halford off the bench.
“I think we’re going to have a big turnaround on Thursday and moving forward,” Halford said of his team’s 3-point shooting. “I think Thursday’s going to be a really good day for us.”
The Cougars are looking for a strong team effort to make up for Collinsworth’s absence. Collinsworth is BYU’s second-leading scorer and is tops on the team in rebounds and assists.
“We’re losing so much without having Kyle that we’ll have to make up for rebounds, assists and points,” Winder said. “It just means everyone has to be more aggressive and step up to the challenge.”
Rose is looking for more production from Josh Sharp and Frank Bartley IV, too.
“The NCAA tournament lights are really bright and what you hope is we get a real consistent feel from not only the starters but the guys who are going to get a few extra minutes,” Rose said. “What you want is just the guys to do their best. If we do that and we kind of manage the personnel and these guys are playing their best basketball, then we’ll be able to kind of maybe compensate for the loss of Kyle.”
For the Cougars to advance to the next round in this tournament, they’ll need Carlino to rise to the occasion and play his best — in a place where he feels right at home.