WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Jubilation collapsed into frustration Sunday night for Kansas University basketball fans, leaving an all-to-familiar refrain: Just wait until next year.
A fierce layup, a successful free throw and a one-point lead with 1:18 remaining lifted Kansas University fans into a frenzy.
Then it all fizzled away.
"It's horrible. Horrible," a stunned Kenny Fearny said, his crimson-and-blue face paint cracking as the seconds ticked away on KU's season.
No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Duke eliminated KU from the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, promising a rough week ahead for the high school freshman from Winston-Salem.
"All my friends are Duke fans," he said. "It's going to be really bad because I'm the only Kansas fan in the whole school. I thought we had it."
The Jayhawks didn't. Duke's pep band blasted its familiar "Devil with a Blue Dress On" post-game serenade as the final score, 69-64, illuminated the frozen scoreboards inside Lawrence Joel Coliseum.
As the music faded away, KU fans still struggled to come to terms with the loss.
For Scott McMichael, director of KU's Williams Fund, the loss means he won't be filling ticket requests this week for the regionals in Syracuse, N.Y. And more.
"The kids played their hearts out," McMichael said. "That's all you can even ask for, but when it's that close it's still like a dagger to the heart."
To Delores Nelson, the loss was more of a ripoff.
One of the game's officials was Charles Range, suspended by the Big 12 earlier this season after he botched the handling of a pivotal call as time expired in a Texas A&M-Texas; Tech game.
"I think Duke won the game with a little help," said Nelson, wife of Bob "Ol' Jayhawk" Nelson. "When you look at the difference in foul calls, they must've gotten half of their points at the line. It infuriates me when you play as hard as you can play and it ends up being decided by a guy with a whistle in his mouth instead of a kid on the floor."
For the record, Duke hit 27 of 31 free throws (87.1 percent) to KU's 8 of 14 (57.1 percent).
Wichita resident Lee Robinson tried sarcasm to reach the officials during the game, screaming "You must've made a mistake" when Duke forward Shane Battier was whistled for a foul late in the second half.
But in the end, there wasn't much else left to say.
"We're not losers," said Robinson, a trainer on KU's 1954 basketball team. "We lost the game -- we lost a big game -- but we'll win one down the road."
Kent and Janet McKinney know they made the right call by coming to the tournament. And it was a long drive.
A week earlier, the couple had packed up their Lincoln Navigator in Port Ludlow, Wash. -- that's northwest of Seattle -- and hit the road after Greg Gumbel announced that the Jayhawks were headed for Winston-Salem.
A full 44 hours later, they had rolled through 19 states, spent $286 on gas and tripped 2,863 miles on the odometer.
They had hoped to extend the trek to Syracuse and, of course, Indianapolis for the Final Four, but they wouldn't let Sunday's loss get them down.
"It was absolutely worth it," Kent McKinney said. "Absolutely. It's the excitement of college basketball, and you just can't beat it."
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.