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What Could Have Been…

Drew Buggs slumped back against his locker and closed his eyes. Next to him, Justin Webster leaned forward and stared at the carpeted floor. At that moment, even the normally ebullient freshman couldn’t bring himself to break the silence.

There was nothing left to say.

Zigmars Raimo approached Buggs and lay a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“We came close,” Raimo told him. “We did good.”

Buggs could only nod in reply. His eyes were still moist.

“We wanted this,” he finally said. “We wanted this real bad.”

Outside the locker room, fans were still milling about the Staples Center arena, talking about the game they had just witnessed. The cheerleaders and band members of both schools headed for their respective exits. The CBS television cameras were already packed and put away.

Perched from his seat on media row, ESPN Honolulu’s Bobby Curran was closing his postgame segment, and not a moment too soon. His voice was nearly gone.

“All good things come to an end,” he spoke into his mic. “Mark this day down. Saturday, March 28. The University of Hawaii’s marvelous, mesmerizing and miraculous run toward the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four has come to a sudden and disappointing conclusion. But oh, what a ride it was.”

Final score: No. 1 seed Gonzaga 81, No. 15 seed Hawaii 79.

Inside the press room, Rainbow Warriors Head Coach Eran Ganot was still fielding questions from the media.

— “We can hold our heads high. We lost by two points to what I consider to be the best team in the country.”
— “I thought that charging call at the end was questionable, but we’ll review the tape and see. Take nothing away from Gonzaga. They won the game.”
— “I hope we made our fans proud. We reached the Elite Eight. That’s the furthest our program has ever gone in the tournament. We beat some outstanding programs to get to this point, including No. 2 San Diego State, Xavier and Oregon. We did it for our fans, for our school and for our state.”
— “Drew was amazing tonight. 22 points. 13 assists. 3 steals. And, again, he played through his injuries. I don’t think I’ve ever coached a player with more grit and heart.”
— “Eddie played great. He had a big second half for us and kept us in the game. Muta was solid. Hemsley gave us some good minutes. Eddie’s shot at the end, I thought it was going to go in. If it did? Well…”
— “You know, I’m not even thinking about that right now. Yes, Saint Mary’s is a great program, but so is ours. I’ll talk with my family in a few days and make a decision. But I can tell you right now: I’m happy to be the head coach at the University of Hawaii.”

“You can’t leave, Coach.”

Buggs offered a smile as he and Raimo approached the podium. Ganot stood up and warmly embraced his two team captains before they took their seats.

The players talked about the loss. They reflected on their season. They gave credit to their opponent, especially Zags senior forward Killian Tillie, the game’s leading scorer and rebounder.

Then the players talked about the future.

“I’m a senior, so I’m looking forward to graduating and continuing to play basketball somewhere,” Raimo said.

Buggs pulled the microphone toward him and leaned forward.

“It’s like I told Coach. I said he can’t leave,” he said. “I’ve got one more year. This team, all of us, we had a special season. But now we want more. We’ll definitely miss Zigmars and Eddie, but we got good players on this team. We’ll be back next year. Nothing is going to stop us from making another run.”

Somewhere in the back of the room, somebody coughed.

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