ANAHEIM, Calif. — There have been some impressive waits by patient people throughout history. Israel wandered for 40 years before unpacking its luggage. China waited centuries — some say as many as 1,400 years — to see the Great Wall complete. Henry Fonda cooled his heels until he was 76 before winning an Oscar.

And as long as we're listing waits, who could forget the BYU Cougars?

On one hand, the frustration was obvious. In losing 67-62 to Texas A&M in Thursday's NCAA Tournament, they continued a streak of first-round exits that goes back to 1993. But that's just the shorter of two.

Then there's the really long one. The one that makes the Ice Age seem trivial.

Thursday's defeat made it 23 invitations to the NCAA Tournament without an appearance in the Final Four — longest in the nation. Missouri is second at 21, Alabama third with 19 and Xavier at 18.

Utah State is tied for the fifth-most appearances without making the Final Four (17).

The Cougars are in a dubious class of one.

That isn't to infer they were looking too far ahead. One thing BYU basketball teams never seem to do in late March is get overconfident. If anything, they're the opposite. They would probably have been overjoyed at just one win, considering.

They did what they always do: Close but no, um, cigar.

"Just a couple of plays short," said center Trent Plaisted.

"This is hard to swallow," added guard Sam Burgess. "It was just so close."

Actually, only the last 35 minutes were close. Before that, not so much. The Aggies went ahead 11-0, thanks partly to the Cougars' 0-for-8 opening.

"Who knows?" added Burgess, when asked if he could assess the slow start. "The jitters from it being the beginning of the tournament, and being back on the big stage is the only thing I can think of to explain it."

It may be hard to explain, but it's easy to analyze: a 37-25 rebounding advantage, a 54 percent shooting night and a handful of key baskets in the clutch for the Aggies.

While the game was in a different year, it was also a mirror of almost all their other losses in the first round: Xavier (2007), Syracuse (2004), Connecticut (2003), Cincinnati (2001) and Tulane (1995).

In most cases, the Cougars ran up against athletic, aggressive opponents and ended up trying to catch up the difference.

This much can be said for the 27-win Cougars: They don't go away easily. If they go, they want to leave a mark. Hence, they caught the Aggies before halftime and actually took a three-point lead.

BYU had planned on facing a team that could give it match-up troubles. What it hadn't planned was to shoot poorly itself.

Nations rose and fell, stars winked in and out of existence, rivers changed their courses — and still no points.

Meanwhile, A&M's Josh Carter made five of his six three-pointers in the first half.

This, of course, brings up the obvious question: Is this condition permanent? Will BYU still be trying to get out of the first round in, say, 40 years?

Probably not. Other teams have been at a disadvantage, too, and survived for a few rounds. Beyond that, next year the Cougars return MWC co-player of the year Lee Cummard, as well as Plaisted, guard Jimmer Fredette and forward Jonathan Tavernari.

Besides, somewhere the law of averages is bound to kick in.

That, however, didn't make it any easier for the Cougars to see the streaks continue.

"We wanted to get over that hump and get a few wins in the tournament," said Plaisted.

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"There's a lot of good things going on with BYU basketball," said coach Dave Rose.

Most of them having nothing to do with records.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com