ORLANDO — The sweat had yet to dry off the forehead of Askia Booker as he sat in a chair in front of his locker at the Amway Center.
Colorado's junior guard was in no mood to talk about the 77-48 loss to Pittsburgh that had just ended the Buffaloes' season, but he was asked if it gives him motivation for next year.
"It does," he said, quietly. "Hopefully it motivates everybody else."
The worst NCAA Tournament loss in program history put a lid on the 2013-14 season, which was quite a ride for CU.
They came into the year motivated from an opening-round loss to Illinois in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. With junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie leading the way, they got off to a 14-2 start and jumped to No. 15 in the Associated Press rankings.
Dinwiddie's season-ending knee injury on Jan. 12 completely changed the season — and the outside expectations — for the Buffs. They also lost freshman reserve Tre'Shaun Fletcher that game, although Fletcher returned late in the season.
Without Dinwiddie and Fletcher, the Buffs started 1-4, and many wrote them off as an NCAA Tournament team. But, they rallied to go 6-4 in their last 10 games of the regular season. They earned the No. 5 seed for the Pac-12 Tournament and then went 2-1 in that event in Las Vegas to solidify their NCAA spot.
Despite the loss to Pitt, the Buffs (23-12) finished with the third-highest win total in school history. Their strong finish to the year proved that they were much more than just a one-man show.
"We got to this point because we've got good players," head coach Tad Boyle said. "Our program is on the ascent, it's not on the descent. The future is bright for our program."
Just how bright is going to depend on Dinwiddie, who is a junior. Prior to his injury, he was planning to leave after the season and enter the NBA Draft. The injury put those plans in doubt, but he's still considering leaving. He said after the game Thursday that he plans to make a decision in a few weeks. He has until April 27 to decide.
If Dinwiddie comes back, the Buffs could be a Top 10 team going into next season, and a legitimate Sweet 16 — or better — team in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Even without him, though, the Buffs are excited about their potential for next season. The only seniors they lose are Beau Gamble and Ben Mills, who were well-liked on the team and popular among fans, but not a part of Boyle's main rotation.
Booker and sophomore Xavier Talton, who started the final 13 games, both return to the backcourt, as do reserves Jaron Hopkins, George King and Eli Stalzer. In the front court, All-Pac-12 forward Josh Scott, Wesley Gordon and Xavier Johnson will return after starting this season. Reserve forwards Dustin Thomas and Fletcher also come back.
Guard Dominique Collier and forward Tory Miller will join the program, too, after starring at the high school level.
"I'm excited for what they have next year," said Gamble, who grew up in Boulder and has been a life-long CU fan. "If I had one thing to say to all Buff fans, it's to be ready because next year this team is going to learn from this and be a lot better."
Player development will be crucial as the Buffs move forward — especially among the freshmen.
The four true freshmen — Fletcher, Hopkins, King and Thomas — spent the year on a roller coaster as they had nice moments, but also struggled at times with the adjustment to college basketball.
"Just how hard you have to play and how consistent you have to be, that's the main thing that our group has talked about," Fletcher said when asked what he learned this year.
"I feel really good (about next year). We've got most of our team coming back and me, Dustin, Jaron and George will be another year older, so we'll have experience. Us four as a freshman class can use this as a learning experience and know what to expect next year."
Hopkins agrees and added that it helped the group to get a taste of high level competition this season, going against the likes of Kansas, Arizona, UCLA and Pitt.
"I think the experience of playing top-ranked teams really helped us out and we'll be ready for next year," he said.
Johnson certainly plans to be ready. The sophomore forward said the bad taste of the loss to Pitt will motivate him immediately.
"I'm going to go to work as soon as we get back to school," he said. "No days off. I'm going to do the best I can for next year so I can do what I need to do."
As for Boyle, well, he hopes to get better, too. This was just his fourth season at CU and he didn't like the taste of that loss to Pitt, either.
"If this can't motivate (the players), I don't know what does," he said. "But, I think it will. I know it will (motivate) me to become a better coach."