A loss to Santa Rita in the 4A-II state semifinals four years ago wasn’t the end of Palo Verde star Bryce Cotton’s basketball career. He just didn’t know what lay ahead.

He could have never imagined this.

Cotton, a 6-foot-1-inch senior guard, has led Providence to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. He scored a team-high 23 points in the championship game of the Big East tournament last Saturday to lift the Friars over No. 14 Creighton 65-58 and give them their first conference tournament title since 1994.

“It’s been very surreal,” Cotton told me Monday. “Things have gotten a whole lot busier this year, especially toward the latter part of the season.

“I’m definitely enjoying it and I can’t complain. This has been one heck of a senior year for me.”

The ending of that senior year is still to be determined: No. 11 Providence will play sixth-seeded North Carolina today in San Antonio at 4:20 p.m. on TNT. The Friars (23-11) have won seven of their last nine games, and Cotton says they have the momentum to make a deep run.

“We were happy to be there, but once we saw we were playing North Carolina, it made it that much better,” Cotton said. “We get to play another great team with a bunch of great players, so it should be a very interesting night and it should be very evenly matched, I feel, because we’re a great team with great players, too.”

Cotton was named a first-team All-Big East selection for the second straight year after averaging 21.7 points and 5.9 assists per game. He’s also well-known for playing an average of 39.9 minutes a game, which is pretty amazing for someone who didn’t even have an offer the day he graduated from high school. Now he’s become a national star in the NCAA.

“I’ve always had big goals for myself,” said Cotton, who hopes to play in the NBA after college. “I don’t really talk about them, but I always keep them in mind and I always envisioned myself being successful. But I’d be lying if I said all of this was going to happen.

“I knew in my heart, I believed in my heart I’d be successful, but never did I expect it to be to this extent and to happen the way it happened.”

Of the 4,274 minutes Cotton has played in his career at Providence, the 40 he spent on the court at Madison Square Garden last Saturday night were easily the most memorable.

But the signature moment came after the game, as he watched his mother, Yvonne, and older brother, Justin Tarpley, step on the court. They were shedding tears of joy as they helped Cotton accept his tournament MVP award.

“That was priceless,” Cotton said. “Somebody got a picture of me and her — that’s something I’m definitely going to have to frame.”

Bound for Spain

Senior offensive linemen David Ogden and John Reynolds of Mountain View will leave for Spain Saturday to take part in Global Bowl Spain. Team Stars & Stripes will face the Cataluña under-19 team next Saturday. The Mountain Lions duo will be joined by offensive line coach Dean Greenberg, who will serve as an assistant in the game.

Wrestler Webb honored

Lindenwood University (Mo.) crowned five All-America wrestlers at the NCAA Division II championship last Saturday, including Ironwood Ridge graduate Kyle Webb. The 141-pound redshirt junior lost in the opening round, but won once in the losers bracket to place eighth and finish the season 29-18. Webb won the 130-pound 5A-II state title in 2010 as a senior with the Nighthawks.

‘Tennis 4 Tori’

Four teams are scheduled to play in Desert Christian’s “Tennis 4 Tori” event at La Mariposa on Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. and running through 6 p.m. The round-robin tournament featuring both boys and girls teams from Benson, Desert Christian, Douglas and Tanque Verde is named after former player Tori Cahill, who was seriously injured in a car accident in December 2012. Cahill, who graduated two years ago, is expected to be at the event, according to coach Carol Brandon, but she didn’t know at what time or for how long.

Contact high school sports coordinator Daniel Gaona at 807-7761 or dgaona@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @DanielGaona13