BUFFALO - Jay Wright remembered the feeling, even though it had been two years since the door last slammed, leaving Villanova on the outside of the NCAA tournament way too quickly.
"It's crushing. It's just crushing, and you have to deal with it," Wright said. "There's no way you can say anything positive and be honest that anything feels good."
Of course, Wright did find some nice things to say. He always does. He said some things about the senior class that moves on as the winningest in school history, some things about the joy of simply taking part in a game and a tournament in which the intensity and the competition are so high, and, naturally, some things about the Wisconsin team that had just bounced Villanova in the second round.
"This is the greatest sporting event in our country. Just being in it, I say this every year to our team . . . you can't take it for granted," Wright said. "You're playing the best teams in the country. You're going to come down to games like this. We had a game like this against Kansas last year and we came out of the good side of it. We had a game like this against N.C. State [the year before], and we had a shot to win it and we missed it."
Those are the two sides of the coin, and the Wildcats have had it come up tails more than heads recently. It is the nature of playing at this level. Since 2009, when they advanced to the Final Four for the first time under Wright, they have been to the tournament seven times and survived the opening weekend only once. That exception was a damn good one. Winning a national championship buys you a lot, but it doesn't buy a pass from the pain or from the second-guessers on the outside who will label the following season a disappointment.
"To me, there's no dishonor in losing in this tournament," Wright said. "But I do know - and we've lived through it - that you are judged by how you play in this tournament, and that's the reality of it. You have to accept it."
So, wrap this one up at 32-4, with a Big East regular-season and tournament championship, a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, and a deflating 65-62 loss to Wisconsin in a game that was about as pleasant as chewing on tin foil.
"They do a good job of getting into you physically, taking away three-pointers and forcing an ugly game," Wright said. "You have to be willing to win an ugly game and I thought we were. We were doing it for a while, but down the stretch they got us."
As happened against Mount St. Mary's in the tournament opener, the Wildcats came out cold and fell behind, trailing 20-12 midway through the opening period. They were still behind by four points at halftime, but there were bright spots. The Badgers' best player, forward Ethan Happ, was in foul trouble and would soon be in worse foul trouble, as would their best outside shooter, Bronson Koenig. On top of that, Wisconsin was dreadful at the foul line and didn't take care of the ball, while Villanova was, aside from shooting, its normal efficient self.
The Wildcats kept pushing, with Wisconsin missing more free throws and turning over the ball as Happ and Koenig rode the bench. With just under six minutes to play, Donte DiVincenzo hit a three-pointer to put Villanova up 57-50 and, well, that looked like that.
Only it wasn't. Villanova went cold, while Happ and Koenig, who would play the remainder of the game with four fouls each, got hot. A call here, a missed free throw there, a pass that slips through, a shot that bounces around and in. The Wildcats simply weren't on the right side of those at the end.
"Sometimes, the ball doesn't go your way," said senior Josh Hart, one of three who played his last college game Saturday. "This team is just as good, if not better, than last year's team. Last, year, we might have gotten away with a blown call or made a shot. That's how it is. It sucks, but it happens."
He remembers, too. For every memory of North Carolina, there is the memory of N.C. State and Connecticut, and now Wisconsin. The three seniors would probably take the same deal, if it were offered again. Three great seasons, three eventual disappointments, but one shining moment in a four-year career that ended 129-17.
The numbers became embedded in the record book Saturday for Hart and Darryl Reynolds, and for Kris Jenkins, whose three-pointer won the title a year ago but who didn't make a single one in his final NCAA tournament. It wasn't a fair end, but maybe he would take the same deal, too.
"It's part of being a player," Wright said of Jenkins. "Teams came after us this season and said, 'Hey, shut down Kris Jenkins,' and I thought we were starting to get a little answer to that with Donte coming on and Eric Paschall coming on. Maybe we just ran out of time. Maybe we just needed one more game."
Perhaps, but that extra opportunity, that additional chance, eluded them this time, and the familiar feeling of being asked to leave the party too soon returned. The Wildcats didn't get to repeat their historical finish of a year ago. They repeated more painful history instead. That's the problem. You don't get to choose which one. You only get to play. History gets to choose.