MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Virtually every college basketball player knows about "One Shining Moment," the somewhat syrupy ending to the NCAA Tournament with highlights from across the three weeks.
But few players, including BYU freshman center Eric Mika, ever give much thought to the end of their own seasons.
It involves (in BYU’s case Thursday, but common to all but one team at some point) sitting in a dejected locker room for an NCAA-required 30 minutes, answering questions as reporters approach them. It's a rare time locker rooms are open at the college level. Mika was like many teammates, sitting in a chair and noshing on a boxed lunch.
"It's hard to believe the year's over," Mika said while digging into a plastic cup of mixed fruit. "I'm going to miss these guys. This year was fun. I love all of these guys; working with them every single day."
Mika is the typical double-edged sword at BYU. Sure, teammates and coaches would love to have him back next year. He could in theory be the only player exiting the program, as there were no seniors.
But it's all about church service, which he'll begin in Italy in mid-May.
Mika had plenty of opportunity this year because BYU lost its starting center from last year, Brandon Davies, who turned into a top-10 player in school history in a variety of categories.
Mika is on his way.
He averaged 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds during the course of a 23-12 season, starting 29 of the 33 games he suited up (missing a couple with a hip injury).
BYU head coach Dave Rose said at the beginning of the season that he envisioned Mika putting up numbers comparable to Mekeli Wesley.
The former BYU standout (1997-2001) had 30 games of scoring at least 20 points — tied for 10th best in school history.
That included five his freshman season, in which Wesley averaged 13.5 points and about five rebounds.
Mika only reached the 20-point mark twice in a season often defined by foul trouble. He hasn't done it since Jan. 30 at home against Pacific.
But he did score 15 points in the 87-68 loss to Oregon on Thursday, teammates most proud of his aggressiveness to create 16 free-throw attempts. He also made 2-of-5 shots.
"I wish I would've made more," Mika said of sinking 11 charity attempts. "But I'll get there. I'll be ready two years from now."
He got going after a very rocky start that included a quick turnover. With his back to the basket, he tried dribbling a couple of times to create a scoring move. An Oregon player created a double-team that Mika never saw coming.
Teammates are excited about his future, especially getting a taste of the NCAA Tournament before delaying his career.
"He's been great for us all season," Tyler Haws said. "For a freshman to come in and have the impact he's had has been really impressive. It's definitely something to build on. We're going to miss him."
In the tournament game, Mika set a new BYU record for offensive rebounds in a season, passing Rafael Araujo, who had 91 in 2002-03.
∫Extra time: What are the biggest momentum killers in the NCAA Tournament? You'll find some coaches and players have the same answer, when they give it a second though.
"Timeouts," BYU guard Matt Carlino said, "are so long."
They're approaching twice as long as during the regular season, creating situations where depth and energy aren't as big of concerns.
And momentum is harder to keep. Oregon called timeout at 13:19 of the second half after BYU started consistently scoring for the first time, getting to within 54-45.
UO coach Dana Altman called for another pause at 11:55. Then 15 seconds later there was a game-changing foul and another stop in action.
Elgin Cook scored a bucket and would get a foul shot after the under-12 minute timeout. So to get from a nine-point deficit to even getting within six points despite Cook's 3-point play was about a 10-minute span of real time; though not even two minutes off the game clock.
During tournament games this season, the media timeouts after each four minutes of play will last 2 minutes, 30 seconds, according to the NCAA. It's typically about 2 1/2 minutes
"That span, we just kind of lost our juice," Carlino said. "It's not an excuse. We needed to play better. But it was a lot of time."
∫Time to reconsider: Various bracket pundits were howling at the seeding of two teams which lost star players this season.
Colorado still was awarded a No. 8 seed despite losing Spencer Dinwiddie a few weeks ago. The Buffs were throttled from the start by Pitt, losing 77-48 in the largest spread ever in an 8-9 game.
Oregon as a No. 7 seed of course handled the Cougars, who were without Kyle Collinsworth. At least that was a three-point game with 12 minutes left, before Oregon pulled away.
Certainly the 10-member committee (which this year included West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich and Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes) will have to consider how to handles such teams in duress.
At the very least, CU and the Cougars looked over-seeded to begin with.
∫What was, and what could've been: BYU fans probably remember Mercer. That team lost in Provo in the NIT to end last year, and a senior-laden group this March produced far more memorable results. Bob Hoffman's team stunned Duke on Friday. Not only that, it was 30 minutes from the Duke campus in Raleigh, N.C.
“They’re not just a good team; they’re an outstanding team,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “So well-coached. You can tell those guys that played a lot of basketball together, and (Langston) Hall leads them so well.”
Hall had 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting in the 90-71 loss last March 25 at the Marriott Center in the NIT's second round. He had 11 against Duke.
"It's definitely a surreal feeling, man," Hall said. "This is what March Madness is all about, really."
Of course, Duke losing also meant one-time BYU recruit Jabari Parker's season is over.
Also of note, BYU could have played Wisconsin on Saturday with a win. The Cougars played UW, then ranked No. 11, on Nov. 26, 2011 and lost, 73-56.
The Badgers, a No. 2 seed these days, return six players from that team three seasons ago — most notably Ben Brust. He hit 7-of-10 3-pointers off the bench against BYU the first time. Against American to start the NCAA Tournament, he had 17 points on 4-of-7 accuracy from the arc.
∫Dodgeball: Rumors have swirled — albeit lightly — for some time that Carlino may not return next year. It's hard to gauge his feelings amid disappointment and a season-ending loss. But he did slightly dodge a question about his future while in the locker room. He would be a senior. It's possible that Carlino could set himself up to get an undergraduate degree, then go somewhere for a senior year without having to redshirt.
"I am not really looking towards next year right now, because it is so hard to even think about it," Carlino said. "This group of guys, they are amazing. It is tough to even think about not playing with this dude (looking at Mika) or all these guys. They are great. I wouldn’t want to go out there with anyone else. This team, we have had a lot of good times through the rough times. That says a lot about a team. It was a fun year, but it is just hard to see it end this way."
∫Looking ahead: BYU's schedule should be loaded again next year. Stanford (which defeated New Mexico to start the NCAA Tournament on Friday), UMass and Utah all return BYU's visits from this season.
Also, the Cougars will play in the Maui Invitational for the first time since the 9-21 season of 2004-05. The three-day tournament, right before Thanksgiving, features: Arizona, Kansas State, Pitt, Missouri, San Diego State, Purdue and Division II host Chaminade. Matchups haven't been set.
∫Roster outlook: Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer is an outside-shooting threat the Cougars could certainly use more of next season. Jamal Aytes (a 6-6 forward) didn't play long at UNLV and has also been working out with the team. From the high school ranks, American Fork's Ryan Andrus (6-8 forward) and returning missionaries Isaac Neilson (6-10 center) and Jordan Chatman round out the group.