Judging by the tent city that’s sprung up around the Marriott Center Friday, and stretches all the way to the main campus, you’d never know that BYU has lost three consecutive games.

But this is a sign of the excitement and anticipation that’s generated when No. 2 Gonzaga comes to town, which occurs Saturday (8 p.m. MST, ESPN).

Despite the Cougars’ 73-59 loss to San Francisco Thursday, students have been camping outside the Marriott Center, braving freezing temperatures, to reserve their spot in line for the best seats in the student section to watch BYU face the Zags.

Maybe it’s because they remember what happened two years ago this month, when the Cougars upset No. 2 Gonzaga 91-78 in front of a sellout crowd.

After the monumental victory, fans stormed the court to celebrate. It was one of the most memorable games in the 50-year history of the Marriott Center. 

This time, with the way these two teams are playing, going in completely opposite directions, another magical moment at the Marriott Center on national TV seems improbable at best. 

Right now, Gonzaga (18-2, 7-0) is No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET and No. 2 in The Associated Press poll.

When the two teams met in Spokane last month, the Zags thumped the Cougars 110-84.

Gonzaga has won 28 consecutive West Coast Conference games and 11 in a row overall. 

The Zags throttled San Diego on the road Thursday night, 92-62. Freshman Chet Holmgren scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Drew Timme added 13 points and eight boards and Andrew Nembhard scored 14 points and dished out seven assists.

BYU, on the other hand, is regressing at the most important time of the season, with losses to Santa Clara, Pacific and San Francisco over the past week. 

Coach Mark Pope always preaches and emphasizes having “The Best Locker Room in America.” That means that players are connected and united, but a three-game losing streak will test those ideals. 

“It’s really testing us a lot. This ‘Best Locker Room In America’ is something we strive for really hard,” Pope said.

“We care about it, but the best deodorant is winning and losing is the opposite. It’s something these guys have never experienced before.”

Pope characterized the mood in the locker room Thursday as “super somber. A lot of frustration, a lot of wonder, a lot of worry, a lot of doubt, a lot of uncertainty.”

The Cougars’ losing streak is about to extend to four, barring a miraculous upset. 

“It’s a challenge that we’ve got to rise up to and find answers to — and it doesn’t get any easier. The game Saturday is going to be harder than this one,” Pope said. “It’s not going away. It’s not like you get through a little stretch and then you get to breathe. Through it getting harder, we actually have to get doubly better. That’s our challenge. We’ve got to find a way to get more together.

“Right now, when the game is asking us to doubt ourselves and doubt each other, we’ve got to be committed to have more trust in each other and trust in ourselves. That’s really hard. Everybody faces that at some point in their life, and that’s what we’re facing right now,” Pope said.

“Not just in sport but in life. Our guys are facing that right now. I have a lot of confidence in these guys. I know their insides. Our job right now is to make this really disappointing stretch make us into something really, really special by the end of the season. Very few teams can do that. We’ll see if we can.”

Maybe the Cougars can draw upon, and be inspired by, the dedication of BYU students, who are camping outside in ice-cold weather to watch their team take on mighty Gonzaga.

And hoping for a miracle inside the Marriott Center Saturday night.

No. 2 Gonzaga (18-2, 7-0) at BYU (17-7, 5-4) 

Saturday, 8 p.m. MST

Marriott Center


Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM