The Cardinals got two free throws from Quentin Snider with nine seconds left to break a tie and the Anteaters turned the ball over in the finals seconds, ending their first NCAA tournament appearance with a 57-55 loss.
Teams either build on these moments or become whatever-happened-to-them questions.
Gonzaga was smacked by Maryland in its first NCAA tournament game in 1995. The Bulldogs built off that.
So where does Irvine stand?
The Anteaters lose two senior starters, forwards Will Davis II and Travis Souza, but key pieces return. They should have back 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, a game-changer in the lane, and two quick guards, Luke Nelson and Alex Young.
Some key role players return, giving Irvine the opportunity to sustain the success.
Recruiting becomes the key. Irvine’s NCAA moment showed it could be done at a high-academic University of California school. High school players should be interested. It won’t be the elite, but getting talent should be easier.
What can’t happen is what happened to Cal State Fullerton in 1978. No team in NCAA history made a run like the Titans, who made it to the West Regional final before losing to Arkansas by three. Fullerton’s recruits the next season? Kevin Bowland, Paul Gilbert and Calvin Roberts. Yes, “who?” is the proper response. It took the Titans 30 years to get back to the tournament.
Of course, if the Anteaters continue their success, then finding a new coach will be the issue. Someone will snap up current Coach Russell Turner.
Actually, that can be a good problem to have. Gonzaga lost Dan Monson after reaching the West Regional final in 1999. Mark Few, his replacement, has done all right.
On the other side, Gary Garner, the coach who took Southeast Missouri State to its only NCAA tournament, limped along until being fired in 2006.