’m excited. I had never been up there before last year. It’s a really crazy environment and I’m sure they have a bad taste in their mouth from last year. —BYU guard Chase Fischer, on playing at Gonzaga
PROVO — Later this week, the BYU men's basketball team will return to the site of one of the biggest upsets in school history.
Last February in the regular-season finale, the Cougars knocked off then-No. 3 Gonzaga 73-70 at The Kennel. BYU never trailed and ended the Zags’ 22-game winning streak and their nation-leading, 41-game home court winning streak.
The Cougars, coming off a home sweep of Santa Clara and San Francisco, are going back to Spokane to face the Zags Thursday (7 p.m., MST, ESPN2).
Gonzaga (13-3, 5-0) currently sits atop the West Coast Conference standings and is the only unbeaten team in league play. Kyle Wiltjer scored 32 points and Domantas Sabonis chipped in 28 points and had 17 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ 85-74 victory over Portland last Saturday.
No doubt, the Zags will be looking to avenge last year's loss.
“I’m excited. I had never been up there before last year. It’s a really crazy environment and I’m sure they have a bad taste in their mouth from last year,” said Cougar guard Chase Fischer, who scored 25 points in BYU’s 102-92 win over USF last Saturday. “I love playing on the road, personally. It will be kind of a little shock to some of our younger guys because the atmosphere is so crazy and they’re always a really good team. Some of us have a lot of confidence going in there but I think this week we’ll have to get mentally prepared for that and how intense it will be and the emotions that go into that.”
“I’m very excited. It sounds fun to me,” said freshman Zac Seljaas, who had 20 points against the Dons, and will be facing the Zags for the first time. "Just like Chase, I like playing on the road, going in and making the crowd mad that you’re scoring more than them — there’s nothing better. Having trust in these guys and following their example, I feel like we can go in there and play our game.”
Meanwhile, coach Dave Rose expressed his concern about his team’s defense after the win over San Francisco. The Cougars (12-5, 3-1) knocked down 15 3-pointers, but they surrendered 92 points, including a lot of buckets in the paint.
“There are a lot of things from this game that can help us get better,” Rose said. “This team has a real mindset that we want to be a better defensive team. I think we’ve progressed into a better defensive team. But (Saturday) we won this thing by making baskets. We’ve got to get back to work on Monday and fix some things.”
There's plenty BYU needs to improve on, Rose added.
“We need to move on and learn from this. Hopefully, we can have some good practices next week and we’re off on the road for four games. When we get back, it’ll tell us a lot about how this season will turn out. It’s a big challenge.”
How does Fischer view BYU’s defensive effort?
“I think it’s been good,” he said. “There are some matchups and some teams that are just going to score, like San Francisco. We could have done a better job and held them to 70 or 75 (points). But when you play an up-tempo team, they’re going to score points. They had a lot of offensive rebounds tonight.”
The Cougars are entering a tough stretch, with four consecutive road games. After playing Gonzaga, BYU visits Portland, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, respectively.
Before defeating Santa Clara and San Francisco, the Cougars spent the two previous weeks on the road, at the Diamond Head Classic and they played their first two WCC games at Saint Mary’s and at Pacific.
Fischer said his team has been road-tested.
“Obviously, you want to have more 2-0 stretches than splits. Going 2-0 in a week, no matter what conference you’re in, is really tough. Defending the homecourt gives us a lot of confidence. We were on the road for two straight weeks before this homestand. I think our guys are really well-prepared. We play well on the road. We have an edge. But there’s a lot of stuff we can work on. We have a lot of confidence on the road after Hawaii and we had a good win at Pacific.”