NEW ORLEANS — Sitting in the locker room at the New Orleans Arena not long after BYU's 83-74 overtime loss to Florida on Thursday night, the disappointment was etched on assistant coach Dave Rice's face.
He knew how tantalizingly close the Cougars were to reaching the Elite Eight.
"It's disappointment for our guys. They've been so classy all year long and have fought through the adversity of lineup changes," Rice said. "Every team deals with it differently. We got great senior leadership from our guys. It's a disappointment because we were one possession away from advancing. But we're proud of what we've accomplished. The seniors have left a great legacy."
As recently as one week ago, it had been 30 years since BYU advanced to the Sweet 16. Despite the suspension of forward Brandon Davies, the Cougars accomplished that feat, then were eliminated in OT by the No. 2-seeded Gators.
Who knows how long it take for BYU, which finished the season with a 32-5 record, to get back to the Sweet 16?
One thing we do know is, the Jimmer Fredette Era in Provo is over.
Fredette finished as the nation's leading scorer and the school's all-time leading scorer. He has already received several national player of the year awards.
"He's actually the first person I met (at BYU) when I came back from my mission," said junior forward Noah Hartsock. "It was amazing what he was able to do and put BYU basketball on the map, on the national scene. He'll leave a legacy of being one of the best players here."
Life without Fredette — and fellow seniors Jackson Emery, the school's all-time steals leader, and forward Logan Magnusson — will certainly be hard to get used to.
"I'm going to miss playing with Jimmer, Jackson and Logan," said junior Charles Abouo. "I love those guys. It's going to be different and it hasn't quite sunk in yet."
"We're going to have different players step up next year," said Hartsock. "We might not have a 30-point scorer like Jimmer, but we'll have solid players."
Naturally, next season's team will have a different look, a different personality.
Abouo is confident that the Cougars, who will be joining a new league — the West Coast Conference — can continue winning a lot of games.
"Our coaches do a great job of reloading every year," he said. "We've got a lot of good players coming back. We'll be fine. We'll celebrate what we've done this year, then get to work. In this program, you're always in a good spot and you always have a lot of faith in what's coming next. This is a good group of guys. We'll miss being together."
While the Cougars lose Fredette, Emery and Magnusson, freshman Kyle Collinsworth, who grabbed 15 rebounds against the Gators, leaves this spring for an LDS mission to Russia.
In addition to Hartsock and Abouo, Stephen Rogers, James Anderson and Brock Zylstra will be back, as will Chris Collinsworth, who underwent season-ending knee surgery in January.
The future of Davies, who was suspended on March 1 because of an honor code violation, is uncertain. The school has not yet decided if he will be able to return to the team next season. Davies sat on the Cougars' bench in street clothes throughout the Mountain West Conference Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
Among the newcomers next season include freshman guard Anson Winder, who redshirted this season; UCLA transfer guard Matt Carlino, and incoming freshman combo guard DeMarcus Harrison from South Carolina.
Asked what he is looking forward to most about next season, head coach Dave Rose said, "The most exciting thing is you get to be on a team — that you get to coach a team. You get to start from the beginning of the season, the off-season, and you work towards it and watch guys improve, watch guys gain confidence, watch your team come together and hopefully you can be successful."
But will Rose and/or Rice return next year?
Because of the program they've built at BYU, both Rose and Rice are rumored to be candidates for head coaching jobs elsewhere. Now that the season is over, they are expected to attract plenty of interest from other schools.