ANAHEIM, Calif. - It took less than an hour for the Arizona Wildcats to change into their civvies and exit Honda Center late Saturday. This wonderful madness, this traveling TV drama that captivates America, had already moved on without them.
One hour. Poof. You're gone.
After Jamelle Horne put on a pair of tan slippers and walked slowly to the team bus, the vast arena was unrecognizable from the place that, an hour earlier, was electric, filled with 17,856 fans.
The twin 94-foot long press tables had been dismantled. The NCAA logos had been stripped from view.
A small army of workers was converting Honda Center into a hockey-ready venue.
You could feel the chill of the ice from under the temporary basketball court.
It is a chill that accompanies each team as it exits the NCAA tournament. Memphis and Texas first. Duke and Arizona next. The Wildcats have been put on ice.
"I'm going to take a week off and then work as hard as I've ever worked in my life," said UA junior guard Kyle Fogg. "I'm going to come back next year and do everything possible to get back here."
The NCAA tournament is so seductive that it always leaves you wanting more.
Imagine what it must be like if you are a fan of, say, USC or Oregon, and the NCAA tournament does not often come your way. You can look through the window but you cannot touch. You cannot, as Fogg does, pencil in March 2012 as a time at which he will again be part of this basketball theater.
Arizona coach Sean Miller referred to his team's remarkable 30-win season as "a platform for future success." He knows he is sitting on the mother lode.
"I do believe we can bring even more talented teams, more experienced teams to the tournament than the one we have right now."
And not in a few years. Next year. And the next. And the one after that.
When the 2011-12 season commences in November, the Wildcats will be able to deploy the type of elite guards that UConn used so well in Saturday's Elite Eight. With Derrick Williams almost surely gone to the NBA draft, Miller will reorganize his team with the West's No. 1 recruiting class.
It's not exaggerating to believe that point guard Josiah Turner and shooting guard Nick Johnson will be to Arizona what Kemba Walker and freshman Jeremy Lamb are to UConn.
It will be fascinating to see how Turner and Johnson merge with Fogg, MoMo Jones and Jordin Mayes. Minutes in Miller's backcourt next season will be precious.
UConn started three freshmen on Saturday. In college basketball of the 21st century, it is no longer a handicap to litter the lineup with freshmen. At the elite level, as with Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, you can be the best player on the floor.
Break-in time has been whittled from one year to one month.
Arizona will replace Williams by committee. The group of Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry, Kevin Parrom and Kyryl Natyazhko scored a cumulative 913 points this season. They played a total of 2,824 minutes.
All made significant improvement this year. All will be upperclassmen, a rare item in power programs. The "bigs" will be reinforced by freshmen Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, who are, by most projections, elite-level prospects with NBA aspirations.
From 1 through 12, next season's roster will be UA's most capable since the 30-7 team of 2005.
If point guard Isaiah Thomas returns to Washington, and unless UCLA is shredded by defections to the NBA, the Huskies and Bruins are apt to open the inaugural Pac-12 season at 1-2 in the polls. Arizona will be a strong third.
With Miller entering his prime as both a coach and a recruiter, Arizona's upside will be intriguing.
Miller has already put some money in the bank: High school junior Grant Jarrett, a 6-foot-9-inch prep star from LaVerne Lutheran, led his team to the California CIF Division III title Saturday night in Sacramento.
Jarrett, who has the wingspan of someone 7-2, is generally considered the No. 1 or No. 2 junior in California. He has already committed to join the revival at Arizona.
"As the new coach, as the new staff, you want to 'restore order,' so to speak," Miller said Saturday night. "You want to allow your program to experience the great success that we've had for decades under Coach (Lute) Olson."
After two seasons, 46 victories, a Pac-10 title and a burst to the Elite Eight, consider order restored.