Provo • Weird, awkward, strange and surreal.
That’s how Jesse Wade describes what it was like back on Jan. 31 when his former college basketball team, Gonzaga, rolled into the Marriott Center and demolished his current team 93-63, the worst home loss in BYU coach Dave Rose’s 14-year tenure.
“A year ago, I was on the other side of the court, playing against BYU,” said the 6-foot-1, 175-pound guard. “It was a weird thing. I am not going to lie. It is hard to describe my emotions. I wanted BYU to win and everything, but I love those Gonzaga guys so much, and know so many of them personally. It was a strange feeling.”
Sitting out this season due to NCAA rules after jumping from GU to BYU last summer, Wade thought about making the trip back to Spokane for Saturday’s rematch (8 p.m., ESPN) at McCarthey Athletic Center, but decided against it. He is not allowed to travel with the team (more NCAA rules) and would have to pay his own way.
The Cougars (18-11, 10-4) collapsed Thursday night in a 77-71 home loss to San Francisco and are heavy underdogs against the No. 2 Zags, who have won the last four matchups by an average of 18 points.
Does BYU have a chance?
“Gonzaga is really, really good. That’s true,” Wade said Wednesday after missing practice with a minor injury. “But I haven’t gotten a sense of impending doom from our guys. They believe in themselves. If nothing else, our guys are just sick of hearing about them and the big loss last month. They just want to beat them.”
Like they did in 2015, 2016 and 2017 — three improbable wins at the Kennel, including when the Zags were undefeated (29-0) and ranked No. 1 in the country two years ago.
BYU is “disappointed in the loss, but these guys have been resilient all year and we will get back in the gym and then head up to Spokane and swing away up there against the No. 2 team in the country and see how we do,” Rose said after the Cougars blew a 14-point lead with eight minutes remaining against San Francisco, a loss that quite likely cost BYU the No. 2 seed in March’s WCC tournament.
Wade, who played sparingly for Gonzaga in 2017-18 after returning from a church mission to Lyon, France, harbors no ill-will for the Zags. Actually, it is just the opposite. He said he has exchanged texts with Zags Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie (injured), Josh Perkins, Joel Ayayi, Zach Norvell Jr. and Brandon Clarke in the past few weeks and he’s especially close to Kispert, Tillie and Ayayi.
“I have definitely followed their season and am so happy for them,” Wade said. “I have developed lifelong friendships with a lot of those guys. I definitely cheer for them when they are not playing us.”
With no weaknesses, star-filled Gonzaga (26-2, 13-0) clinched its seventh consecutive WCC title Thursday when it routed Pepperdine 92-64 and is cruising toward another likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Zags are beating WCC opponents by 28 points per game, which seems like a reasonable goal for BYU to stay below Saturday.
But Wade said he doesn’t regret leaving at all. His BYU teammates and coaches say he’s one of the best shooters on the team. He will make a much bigger impact for the Cougars next year than if he would have stayed at talent-heavy GU.
“I am so happy here at BYU,” Wade said. “I love coach Rose and the coaching staff here. I know this is where I am supposed to be. I know that last year I was supposed to be at Gonzaga to get that experience. I am grateful for it. But I love it here. I love BYU, and being so close to home [Kaysville] and family. No regrets whatsoever.”
Wade said he’s always asked one question in particular about Gonzaga. What’s its secret formula for success?
“The thing about the Zags that makes them so good is they play for each other,” he said. “You know, they’ve got great guys and great players, great talent. But their togetherness is amazing. The way you beat them is you match that, or you exceed their togetherness. You play for each other, and play hard, hit shots. But that bond they have with one another is the biggest thing.”
Wade said when recruits visit Spokane — not the most glamorous or exotic locale in the world — they experience that team culture and want to be a part of it.
“Being part of that culture is really cool. It is really special,” he said. “The coaching staff is great, but the guys themselves, they are so close to each other and really tight-knit. Nothing breaks that bond.”
His next mission: Growing that culture at BYU.
BYU AT GONZAGA
At the McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane
Tipoff • Saturday, 8 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 18-11, 10-4; Gonzaga 26-2, 13-0
Series history • Gonzaga leads, 16-6
Last meeting • Gonzaga 93, BYU 63 (Jan. 31, 2019)
About the Bulldogs • Ranked No. 2 in the country, they walloped Pepperdine 92-64 in Spokane on Thursday night for the 17th straight victory and clinched their seventh straight WCC title and 18th in the last 19 years. … Senior point guard Josh Perkins became their all-time assist leader, passing Matt Santangelo. … They have won the last four matchups with BYU by an average of 18 points. … Forward Rui Hachimura leads them in scoring with a 20.4 average.
About the Cougars • They collapsed Thursday night at the Marriott Center, blowing a 14-point lead with eight minutes remaining in a 77-71 loss to San Francisco. Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws combined for 53 points. Childs has 1,548 career points and ranks 15th all-time on BYU’s scoring list. … They had won three straight games at Gonzaga before falling 68-60 last year at the Kennel and are 3-4 all-time at the McCarthey Athletic Center.