PITTSBURGH - Jay Wright stood outside the locker room, away from where his Villanova players were trying to comprehend what just happened on the night when they were supposed to advance to the Wildcats' first NCAA Sweet 16 since their Final Four run in 2009.
After the top-seeded Wildcats were unceremoniously bounced from the NCAA East Regional by No. 8 seed North Carolina State at the Consol Energy Center, the coach talked of how his team doesn't fear failure and how his players must own the disappointment of getting knocked out after a record 33-3 season.
Simply put, the 71-68 loss to the Wolfpack on Saturday represented the Wildcats' season-long worst-case scenario - a rare poor shooting night (31.1 percent) combined with an inability to deal with an opponent's quicker and more athletic front line.
So once again, the Wildcats were unable to reach the NCAA's second weekend as a high seed. They had fallen short as a No. 2 seed in 2010 and 2014 and then embarrassingly became the initial No. 1 to be eliminated this weekend.
It's difficult to grasp how a team that is 62-8 in the last two years, a run that has included back-to-back regular-season titles and the program's first tournament championship in 20 years in the Big East continues to disappoint when the lights are the brightest.
Of course, that sheds a bad light both locally and nationally on Wright, especially given the length of the program's absence from the Sweet 16, and his players.
"We're trying to teach our guys to not be defined by outside perception," Wright said. "Respect people's opinions, respect the fact that you're a big-time athlete and they have the right to write their opinions, to ask their questions. It's part of the game.
"You've got to decide how you define yourself. When they say you're great, you've got to look at yourself and say, 'What are we doing? Are we really great?' And when they say you're bad, it's the same thing."
The Wildcats face a long offseason with questions. Who will replace 6-foot-7 JayVaughn Pinkston to team with 6-11 Daniel Ochefu inside? How will they fit in blue-chip recruit Jalen Brunson into an already guard-heavy lineup that includes Ryan Arcidiacono, Dylan Ennis and Phil Booth?
Pinkston and Ochefu, who shot 14 percent (1 of 7) on Saturday night after hitting 77 percent in his previous five games, were outplayed by Wolfpack freshman Malik Abu and sophomore Lennard Freeman, each of whom had his second double-doubles of the season.
The Wildcats lost inside battles on the boards, 45-32, and in the paint, 34-14.
In place of Pinkston, 'Nova's second inside player could be 6-5 Josh Hart, with 6-8 Darryl Reynolds backing up. Kris Jenkins, at 6-6 and 240 pounds, also might fill in there, but he averaged just 2.0 rebounds this season.
The Wildcats also have 6-7 Mikal Bridges (Great Valley), who redshirted this season, and incoming 6-8 freshman Tim Delaney (Pitman).
Wright feels for his players, especially his seniors. Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard combined for 3,101 points in their four seasons together. Arcidiacono was Big East co-player of the year and Hart won the sixth-man award. The Wildcats were the conference's marquee attraction and hadn't lost a game in two months before Saturday night.
"We didn't get it done," Wright said, "but not from any lack of effort or commitment. We know questions are going to come next year. We know people are going to talk about it right now. We know upsets are a big story. When we won big, we had big stories, too.
"So you've got to take it. You've got to own it. It's part of life, though."