Nearly five hours after they walked off the Honda Center court in Anaheim, Calif., with tears in their eyes and their heads hanging following a two-point loss to Connecticut in the Elite Eight, the Arizona Wildcats walked out of McKale Center late Saturday night in much different style.
After being welcomed home just after 11 p.m., by an estimated 2,000 fans and holding a roughly five-minute pep rally on the arena floor, the Wildcats were given a rock star send-off by the UA faithful.
MoMo Jones, Kevin Parrom, Jesse Perry and Jordin Mayes innocently tried to leave the arena through Hall of Fame Hallway. Once the quartet appeared out of an elevator, UA fans exiting through the hallway went crazy for an up-close look at their favorite players.
Surrounded by fans asking for autographs and pictures, a smiling Jones shouted at Perry.
"Hey, J.P," Jones said. "You ever seen anything like this man?"
Perry looked back at his teammate, who was directly in the middle of the mob.
"This is crazy," Perry yelled back. "I've never seen anything like this."
Eventually, the players safely made it out of the arena, each of them getting a police escort to his car.
"That was a wild, wild scene," said 17-year old Mario Granillo, who managed to get six UA signatures on his white Adidas basketball shoe. "I had to fight through the crowd to get them, but it was worth it. I actually got cut, trying to get in there, but it's cool.
"It was important we were all here to show them support."
The Wildcats arrived at McKale on their charter bus and were led off by athletic director Greg Byrne and coach Sean Miller. Once the team made it inside the arena, the 2,000 or so fans inside greeted them with loud "U of A" chants.
Byrne was the first to speak and expressed his amazement with the number of fans sitting in the south end of the arena.
"I don't think there's another place in the country that would get a crowd like this," Byrne said to the crowd.
Miller briefly addressed the fans and thanked them for the support. He finished with a powerful message.
"There will come a day when we come home," Miller said, "and not celebrate an Elite Eight appearance, but celebrate us winning the whole thing."
The players then followed their coach off the floor, but not before the UA crowd started a "one more year" chant at Wildcats sophomore Derrick Williams, who is projected to be a top pick in the NBA draft.
After disappearing from the court, Williams came back out with Jones. Each player grabbed the microphone. After Jones thanked the crowd again for coming out, Williams had the last word.
"As of right now, I'm still in school," Williams said to the crowd with a big smile.
Fans were allowed to start filing into McKale Center at 9:30 p.m. Once in the arena, fans were treated to a highlight video to Aerosmith's "Dream On."
When the video wasn't being shown, there was a giant picture of the team on the video board with the header "Pac-10 Conference Champs. 30-8. Elite 8."
"We had to be here," said Fernando Martinez, who brought his 4-year old nephew with him. "It could be a once-in-a-lifetime type thing. I wasn't going to pass it up."