ANAHEIM, Calif. - Most Arizona Wildcats fans streamed out of Honda Center moments after Saturday's Elite Eight loss to Connecticut, eager to beat the traffic and avoid celebrating Huskies.
UA grads Shar Bahmani and Ian Sambor stayed.
"When you wear those Arizona colors, you want to get to the Final Four," said San Diego's Bahmani. "It hurts. It hurts. But we'll get back, though."
Sambor and Bahmani were among the 500 or so brave - or was it masochistic? - Arizona fans who remained inside Honda Center to watch UConn celebrate its 65-63 win. Players danced and posed for the cameras, then cut down the nets.
Sambor said their reasons for staying were "a combination of seeing what could have been and maybe getting to see the players when they come out."
Travis Ronan watched UConn celebrate from a section filled with Husky fans. Sporting Arizona gear and blue beads around his neck, the 28-year-old Apple Valley, Calif., resident replayed the final moments of the game in his head.
Arizona's Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne both missed three-pointers on Arizona's final possession that could have sent the Wildcats to the Final Four.
"It was a terrible way to lose," Ronan said, "but it was a good game."
Sambor, wearing a Zona Zoo shirt, said he thought the UA would try for a tie rather than a win. But he wasn't angry, just disappointed in the final score.
"I wouldn't argue with anything (coach) Sean Miller does," he said with a chuckle. "He can tell me how to raise my kids."
Saturday's sold-out final felt like McKale Center, with fans standing and cheering, even when the Wildcats trailed by double digits. The arena erupted as the UA climbed back into the game, taking a three-point lead with 6 minutes 36 seconds left, then, after falling behind, cutting UConn's advantage from six to two in the final 2:31.
"That's the reason why we were in the game," guard MoMo Jones said.
Williams said he felt the crowd support "even when we were losing, even when there was a dead ball."
"We owe a lot to Tucson and all of our fans that were here," he said. "A lot of people made that drive all the way out here, so we're thankful for that. Hopefully, we'll be back in this spot next year."
Bahmani, a 2003 UA grad, tried to stay cheerful while UConn celebrated. Arizona defeated Memphis and upset Texas to reach the Sweet 16; Thursday, the Wildcats overcame a six-point halftime deficit to beat Duke by 16.
"We can sleep," Bahmani said, "knowing we beat Duke."
UConn fan Mike Mahass said there was a simple reason Arizona was a crowd favorite Saturday. "You can drive here from Arizona," he said, "but not from Connecticut."
Mahass didn't have to travel far; a Los Angeles resident, he drove to the game with his buddies. Sporting a throwback Stanley Robinson UConn jersey, Mahass took some good-natured pre-game ribbing from UA fans. He called the Big East "the best conference."
"I don't hate on the Pac-10," he said, "but the Big East is better."
Lute Olson and his wife, Kelly, were walking into Honda Center when they were met by a small crowd of well-wishers.
Among those posing for pictures with the former Wildcats coach was Harvey Kitani, the longtime basketball coach at Los Angeles Fairfax High School.
Kitani came to watch UA forward Solomon Hill, a former Fairfax star. Kitani also coached former UA standout Chris Mills.
"It's a good day," he said. "(Olson) is a hall of fame coach and a class guy."