SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA regular season won't be over for another week and a half, but the 2013-14 college basketball campaign ends this weekend with the Final Four semifinal games Saturday and the title game Monday.
Several Utah Jazz players and coaches know exactly what Final Four weekend is all about. Jazz starting forward Marvin Williams' North Carolina team won the NCAA championship in 2005, as did Jazz reserve guard Brandon Rush's Kansas team in 2008. And Jazz assistant coach Sidney Lowe was a starting guard on the North Carolina State squad that won a most memorable NCAA tournament title back in 1983.
Three other current Jazz players — Trey Burke (Michigan, 2013), Gordon Hayward (Butler, 2010) and Richard Jefferson (Arizona, 2001) — each lost in the national championship game, as did Jazz assistant coaches Alex Jensen (Utah, 1998) and Mike Sanders (UCLA, 1980). And Jazz guard John Lucas III's Oklahoma State squad lost in the NCAA semifinals in 2004.
It's only been a year since Burke's Michigan team lost to Louisville in the title showdown, so those memories are still pretty fresh on the Jazz rookie point guard's mind.
"Seems like it was just yesterday we was there," he said Friday. "It was about a year ago, so obviously I'll be watching. I've got a good friend, Traevon Jackson, that plays for Wisconsin, so I'll be rooting for him.
"You always want to win those games. It's the last game of the season; it's the national championship, and coming that close to winning a national championship and losing is always tough.
"But as a competitor, you've just got to move forward and find where you made your mistakes at and just try to learn from all your losses," Burke said.
On April 8, 2013, Burke and his Wolverine teammates lost to Louisville, 82-76, despite 24 points by Burke, who was named the national player of the year.
Hayward can certainly relate to that feeling. He led Butler all the way to the NCAA title game four years ago, when the Duke Blue Devils escaped with a 61-59 victory — but only after Hayward's half-court shot at the final buzzer bounced off the backboard and barely missed going in.
Hayward says his desperation attempt was actually closer to going in than he thought it would be when it left his hands.
"I didn't try to bank it so, from my angle, I thought it was way off," he said following Friday morning's shootaround. "So it was closer than I thought."
Hayward figures that, had he made that potential game-winning shot, he'd still get asked about it at this time of year.
"I think people would ask about, you know, it would be the same type of questions, just the fact that it went in," he said. "So I don't know if it would be any different — just better memories, I guess.
"As a competitor, you hate losing and so you're the first loser in that situation. At least you gave yourself a chance, and I think later in life I'll look back and say we had a hell of a run. But there' still a pretty bitter taste in my mouth from that."
And, at times, Hayward admits it's a little frustrating to continually hear about all the "what ifs?" associated with that fateful shot.
"I've seen it a bunch, just because they show highlights of it all the time," he said. "It seems almost like anytime someone has a half-court heave, they say something about it, too. So it's pretty annoying, actually."
HOPE TO FINISH STRONG: Burke said that, even though the Jazz were eliminated from playoff contention long ago, have the worst record in the Western Conference, and have lost five straight, 11 of their last 12, and 16 of their last 18 games, they're not throwing in the towel.
"We have goals, certain goals we set for these last seven games," he said, "and that's to continue to get better and play through our mistakes but learn from them.
"We definitely feel like we can meet those short-term goals and just continue to develop as players and as a team."
Teammate Derrick Favors agrees.
"We're just trying to finish the season off strong," the Jazz center said. "Come out here and get as many wins as we can, just try and finish this season off strong.
"I think we're ready to just go out and play. We've been on a losing streak lately, and we're just ready to get out there and play and get a win."
NOT GIVING UP: Burke said he's been proud of the refuse-to-quit nature he's seen from his teammates through what's been a difficult, losing situation.
"The way we persevere through adversity, the way we just continue to fight through adversity goes to show that we have a lot of strong players," he said. "None of us is used to losing, so we've just got to find ways to just continue to move on and get better."
But this late in this losing season, how can they do that?
"Watching a lot of film, learning from your mistakes, late-game situations, coming out with a lot of intensity — all of those things play a big part in winning or losing," Burke said before Friday's home game against New Orleans.
"We had a goal of competing and getting better every single game. I'm sure everybody on the team wants to win every game. These last seven games, as easy as it is to say, we have to do what we do on the defensive end and execute on the offense to accomplish that goal. It's going to be hard, but it can be done if we come together."
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