It wasn't supposed to end this way. Not in the Elite Eight, with Pitt bedeviled again by Big East rival Villanova, with Levance Fields firing a desperation rocket across court with half a second to go.
The script had it wrapping up in Detroit, with the first trip for the Panthers to the Final Four since 1941. But the cross-state Wildcats, who had stunned Pitt earlier in the season with a 10-point defeat, had other plans -- their own hoop dreams.
Since this heartbreaking finish comes at the close of March, there will be plenty of time to look ahead, to coach Jamie Dixon's rebuilt and retooled Panther squad for 2009-10 and another spirited run that may earn a tournament berth. For now, Pitt fans should look back and savor the season that was.
It was a year of firsts. The team finished 31-5, first in total wins, along with 2003-04, for a Panthers season. The team was ranked first in the country for the first time. It beat a No. 1 team for the first time. It was a top seed for the first time in the NCAA Tournament.
It's a program of promise from a larger standpoint, too. Under Coach Dixon since 2003, the Panthers have compiled a record of 163-45, won the Big East Conference season title, taken the Big East Tournament Championship, made it to the Sweet Sixteen twice and this season, of course, reached the round of eight.
With the marquee talents of Levance Fields, Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and key support players, this was the year it was all going to come together in the Final Four. The fact that it didn't says more about luck than the quality of play. The fact that it hurts so bad is testament that this season was so good.