LAS VEGAS — The mistake-filled last impression BYU left in the minds of the selection committee may not have been the worst thing about Tuesday night's loss for the Cougars.
Even if BYU sneaks into the NCAA tournament, the Cougars may be without one of their best players.
Starting guard Kyle Collinsworth, BYU's most versatile player, landed awkwardly on his right knee and had to be helped to the locker room by two staffers midway through the second half of the Cougars' 75-64 loss to Gonzaga. The 6-foot-6 sophomore did not return to the game, instead reemerging from the locker room with an ice bag wrapped around his knee and taking a seat at the end of the bench.
BYU coach Dave Rose said Collinsworth will undergo an MRI on the injured knee Wednesday. When pressed for an early diagnosis, neither Rose nor a BYU spokesman would elaborate further on the extent of the injury.
"The doctors right now are calling it an injured knee," Rose said. "We'll have an MRI tomorrow to see the extent. He's in a lot of pain and wasn't able to return."
If the wait for Collinsworth's MRI results will be anxiety-inducing for BYU, so will the wait to see if the Cougars are in the NCAA tournament when the brackets get unveiled on Sunday. Most mock brackets had BYU as one of the final at-large teams in the field entering Tuesday's title game, but now the Cougars must hope that other bubble teams don't eclipse them.
Bolstering BYU's case is a formidable non-conference schedule rated fifth-toughest in the nation. The Cougars beat Texas on a neutral floor, won at Stanford and suffered narrow losses to NCAA tournament-bound Wichita State, Iowa State, UMass and Oregon. What detracts from BYU's resume are the bad losses it suffered in WCC play. Pacific, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Portland each upset the Cougars.
The other concern for BYU is whether the selection committee could evaluate the Cougars differently if Collinsworth is unavailable for the postseason. The do-everything sophomore averaged 14.0 points, a team-high 8.2 rebounds and a team-high 4.7 assists, not to mention he's probably BYU's best perimeter defender.
Asked whether he thought his team had done enough to make the field and whether he was concerned the Collinsworth injury could play a role in the selection committee's decision, Rose sidestepped the question.
"I'm just really proud of our team," Rose said. "As a group we battled through a very difficult non-conference schedule. We had a couple games that we had a chance to win and didn't get them. The guys responded and fought back. We didn't get off to the best start in league play, but we finished really strong. That's how I personally feel about our team. We'll see what happens."
BYU's biggest advocate was the coach whose team beat the Cougars on Tuesday night for the second time in three meetings this season. Gonzaga's Mark Few said BYU clearly looks like an NCAA tournament team to him and is more deserving than the mid-tier teams from power conferences.
"Without a doubt," Few said. "It's how hard they play, how skilled they are. Nobody attacks offensively the way BYU does. They come at you and if you're not ready, they can run at you.
"You've got to look at the schedule they played. I thought they played the toughest non-conference schedule in the country when you take into account where they played those games at. I watched a lot of those games and they came down to a possession or two -- the Iowa State game, the UMass game, Oregon. They're even with those teams. I watched them play even and they should've won. So there's not a question in my mind they're an NCAA tournament team."
It surely would have helped BYU's case if it played more like an NCAA tournament caliber-team on Tuesday.
Gonzaga led by 12 after seven minutes, by 17 at halftime and by as many as 21 in the second half. Crisp ball movement, deadly perimeter shooting and a slew of Cougars' turnovers helped the Zags shred the BYU defense and quickly build their lead sending the red-and-blue clad sections of the Orleans Arena crowd into a frenzy.
Sixteen of the game's 22 assists belonged to Gonzaga, seven from David Stockton alone. Sam Dower led the way for the Zags with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Oddly it was the Collinsworth injury that inspired a BYU comeback. The Cougars trailed by 20 when Collinsworth went down clutching his knee, but they rallied to within eight with less than three minutes to play before a series of Gonzaga defensive stops put the game away.
"It was tough to see [Collinsworth] go down, but our guys just stayed in it and came together and said, 'let's do it for him,'" said BYU guard Tyler Haws, who led the Cougars with 24 points. "We tried to claw our way back into it. You have to give Gonzaga a lot of credit. They made the plays they needed to to win the game."
As Haws and forward Eric Mika trudged silently from the BYU locker room to the interview room, they passed a stream of Gonzaga players clad in championship hats and T-Shirts led by Dower clutching the championship trophy.
That surely was a fitting end to the Cougars' rough night.
They lost a game that could have wrapped up an NCAA tournament bid. They lost a player who had been their most effective in the WCC tournament. And now they have a stressful five-day wait before learning their fate.
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