Most WCC head coaches weren't sure what to make of Kyle Collinsworth.
But Saint Mary's leader Randy Bennett didn't feel the same way. Bennett's advantage, if it could be called that even after the result, was that he had seen the returned-missionary BYU point guard in person before.
Remember, Collinsworth was part of the Sweet 16 team in 2011 that also happened to play the Gaels in November (2010) at South Padre Island, Texas.
Collinsworth, then a freshman, had 10 points and two assists (4-of-6 shooting) in 33 minutes as a starting guard that year.
Well, Collinsworth is even more valuable now. And he's even turning into quite the free-throw shooter, arguably a surprise to at least the Gaels and the packed-in Marriott Center crowd on Saturday night.
Collinsworth scored 20 points, keeping BYU in the game in the first half, and even hit 8-of-10 foul shots.
Over the past two games, the gifted guard is 14-of-18 from the line, which has at least brought up his free-throw percentage a little, though it still sits at 61 percent. It's not like his foul-shot issues were just a result of spending the last two years in Russia: Collinsworth was at 56 percent accuracy as a freshman.
"He deserves to see positive results because of the time he's put in," BYU coach Dave Rose said after BYU held on to defeat Saint Mary's, 84-71, for the first time in five West Coast Conference-affiliated tries. "Not just physically on the floor, but film — watching himself. Just a lot of things to improve his game."
BYU won a few years ago against SMC by a point on a Jimmer Fredette 3-point shot with 11 seconds left.
Times change, players change. Collinsworth had some of Fredette's clutchness.
He made 5-of-9 shots and led the Cougars with 14 first-half points, including a nifty jumper with 50 seconds left that gave his team its first lead of the night (37-35). BYU overcame a 14-point deficit, the largest one BYU's rallied from to win this year.
"We know all about him," Bennett told the Daily Herald on Friday night. "But we didn't know how many positions he might play. I do remember him for his height, he was really versatile and could find a lot of roles."
By the end of the night, Bennett again told the newspaper in a follow-up interview on the Marriott Center court that Collinsworth was "clever" getting to the foul line 10 times and also having nine rebounds.
Collnsworth said his goal was to make 10 free throws against the Gaels.
"He was good," Bennett said. "Of course, it was the first time we've seen him since his mission. But he gets to the line a lot and he's a load on the boards. He's really clever."
Where Bennett saw clever, Rose saw savior.
Collinsworth, early in the night, often had a SMC power forward guarding him, creating the mismatch that was most advantageous in BYU's mind.
"The first 10 minutes, Kyle saved us," Rose said. "Because we were having such a hard time running anything. Kyle was able to just get the ball on the floor, get to the rim."
He may not be quite like Haws (seventh 30-point game this season) either with a jumpshot or at the foul line, but the last two games may mark a significant boost in Collinsworth's strategy, Rose said.
"That makes you so much more aggressive with the ball in your hands, going to the basket," Rose said. "Knowing that if you can draw contact, you're going to come up with points (at the foul line)."
∫Luke, you are a bother: Haws had the one-liner of the night in the media room. He said "it's like a Bronson effort again," how football player Bronson Kaufusi was known to score more than foul.
Freshman center Luke Worthington had five fouls in a surprisingly high 10 minutes against SMC. But it was time and referees' whistles well spent against Brad Waldow, who was 11-for-18 at the foul line.
"Luke just competed and battled. If you can handle the physicality of Waldow, you're doing something right," Haws said.
Worthington, with some help from Josh Sharp, helped alleviate some foul trouble on post players Eric Mika and Nate Austin. The Wisconsin native's first defensive possession resulted in a blocked shot of Waldow.
"Luke was looking forward to the challenge and battling with Waldow," Haws said.
∫All over the place: Pacific was tromped in Provo on Thursday night, then easily won at San Diego on Saturday.
That about sums up the WCC docket. Like the ACC geography map, it's all over the place.
"Not just the results, but some of the scores are really intriguing," Rose said. "But I think it's that way all over college basketball."
The ninth-year coach, whose teams have finished third the first two years in the WCC — after never finishing lower than second in six years of Mountain West play — are currently in a tie for second with San Francisco (7-4).
BYU still gets the Dons and first-place Gonzaga (10-1) at home. BYU won at USF and lost to the Bulldogs in Spokane, Wash.
Rose points to teams like Ohio State having a four-game losing streak, or Wisconsin losing three straight home games for the first time in a couple of decades, as examples of just how all-over-the-map teams can be these days across the country. Also, top-ranked Arizona lost its first game of the season on a buzzer beater at Cal.
∫Helping out: BYU certainly has a lot of its own work to do in order to get back to the NCAA tournament (read: win), but at least old opponents are making the Cougars look a little better.
Texas improved to 16-4 and should bump up considerably Monday from its current No. 25 national ranking after pounding top 10-ranked Kansas on Saturday at home.
The Longhorns lost to BYU, 86-82, on Nov. 25 in Kansas City, Mo.
Since then, the relatively no-name team (no Kevin Durant incarnates on the Longhorns) have bounced back from what was their first loss of the year after winning the opening four games.
Texas is second in the Big 12 Conference, still behind Kansas, and has stunned some national pundits in what is regarded right now by many as the toughest league in the country.
∫Tip-ins: Rose's BYU teams like ending January. The team has won all nine games to start February in his tenure. ...The BYU women's choir handled the national anthem. Right before that, a moment of silence was held for Utah County Sherriff's Sgt., Cory Wride, who was killed in the line of duty Thursday. ...For what it's worth, Rose was split on the Super Bowl outcome. He thought the Broncos would win, but said "I better root for Seattle" because Washington native, assistant coach Terry Nashif, had his rooting interests deeply embedded with the Seahawks.