SAN JOSE, Calif. — It was a somber scene in the Kansas State locker room, where Wildcat players sat slumped over, trying to wrap their heads around what had just happened.
All the accomplishments through all the obstacles to produce a memorable regular season were the last things on their minds as they contemplated the finality of a first-round 70-64 NCAA Tournament loss to No. 13 seed UC Irvine on Friday at the SAP Center.
"We love each other and when we lose, we lose together, so everyone is hurting in here," said sophomore guard Cartier Diarra, who made his second straight start in place of injured forward Dean Wade and finished with nine points. "We didn't win one and we didn't want to see this day.
"Things happen and it just came down to we lost it, that's about it."
It was an especially bitter loss for this team, which tied for the Big 12 regular-season championship and received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA South Regional on the shoulders of fourth-year seniors Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Wade, only to bow out in the opening round. And for the second straight year, Wade saw an all-Big 12 season derailed by a foot injury.
"I told you (before), every day my last prayer was that they could finish the season, all healthy," Weber said of the seniors, who led K-State to a final 25-9 record. "Two of them did, though Kam, what he has endured is amazing.
"Those little cartoon books and stuff, 'The Little Engine that Could,' that little dude kept chugging up that hill, no matter what happened, and you really appreciate them because a lot of guys wouldn't have done that, wouldn't have continued to play."
Wade, who missed six games earlier in the season with a partial tendon tear in his right foot, then hurt the same foot in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma that clinched a share of the Big 12 crown. Stokes missed one game with foot problems that continued to plague him and also battled migraine headaches late in the season.
Brown and Wade both were named to the all-Big 12 first team and Brown was named conference defensive player of the year, while Stokes received al-league honorable mention.
"I'm OK right now," Brown said after the dust had settled and he had returned to the locker room following the postgame press conference. "The emotions were high earlier, when I first got in the locker room, but right now it's just tough, man.
"It's a tough pill to swallow, reflecting back on the game and thinking of things I should have did better."
Much as was the case in their Big 12 Tournament semifinal loss to Iowa State the previous week in Kansas City, the Wildcats were well positioned midway through the second half, going up 49-44 when Stokes' three free throws broke a tie and junior post Makol Mawien scored inside with 10:35 left.
But that's when UC Irvine (31-5) struck, knocking down four 3-pointers in the span of less than three minutes and tacking on three Evan Leonard free throws with 6:03 to go to complete a 15-2 run and put the Anteaters in front, 59-51.
At the same time, the Anteaters employed a 2-3 zone that seemed to throw K-State out of sync.
But the Wildcats answered with an 8-2 spurt on back-to-back 3-pointers from Stokes and Brown, followed by a Stokes jumper that trimmed it to 63-61 at the 3:15 mark and came up empty on three different possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Diarra missed a baseline runner and Brown a long 3-pointer, and UCI's Max Hazzard made them pay with a dagger three from the left corner that pushed the lead to five.
Even so, K-State was not dead. Diarra drained a second-chance 3-pointer after Xavier Sneed tipped out a rebound and the Irvine's Robert Cartwright missed on a drive to the basket.
But Brown, looking for a teammate to his right, fired the ball straight to the Wildcat bench at 38.8 seconds and the Anteaters iced it with four straight Leonard free throws.
"The last play, when I'm dribbling down, I wanted to penetrate," Brown said. "But then I saw three guys and I thought Cartwright was going to come up, but he didn't and I kind of made the wrong pass.
"Just made the wrong read in a crucial part of the game. Definitely on me; should have been better."
It was a rough last game for Brown, the Wildcats' leading scorer on the season at nearly 15 points a game, who picked up his second foul less than six minutes into the game and spent the last 14:15 of the half on the bench. He finished with five points and five rebounds.
"Our shots were not falling and they made shots," said Stokes, who led the Wildcats with 18 points and four assists. "We didn't execute when we had the opportunities to."
Mawien added 14 points and 12 rebounds for K-State, but the double-double was small consolation.
"All I worry about is the loss," Mawien said. "No matter what I did, if we lost I probably could have done something better."
UC Irvine, which will face No. 12 seed Oregon on Sunday in the second round, got 19 points each from Hazzard and Leonard, 11 from backup center Elston Jones and 10 from Cartwright.
"We just had a great game plan," Leonard said of the Anteaters' 17th straight victory. I feel like we were able to execute it.
"We sent them a lot of different looks (defensively). I'm not going to say too much because we've got another game."
There will be no more games this year for K-State.