Oh yes, they were a happy bunch. The shouts of joy echoed down the halls in the bowels of Wells Fargo Arena.
They didn't come from the home team. Saturday night was Northern Arizona's time to celebrate an upset win over a Pac-12 opponent, Arizona State. NAU (4-7) had one previous win over a Division I opponent this season, Cal-State Bakersfield (which plays as an independent and is not conference-affiliated) and two wins over lower-tier opponents.
Stallon Saldivar, a steady, heady junior guard from Salt Lake City, hit the winning shot, a three-pointer with one second to play and ASU couldn't get off a shot in 0.08 seconds. The Lumberjacks won 69-68, having led only twice until the final horn.
Afterward, the buzz words about the NAU program, whose head coach Mike Adras resigned last week and was playing its second game under 70-year-old interim coach Dave Brown, were "teammates," "togetherness," and "family."
It was hard not to be happy for the kids and senior citizen coach from Flagstaff.
"It's big. It's a winning streak for us with D-I schools. The morale is unbelievable in the locker room," Saldivar said. "It's been a hell of a week for us, so we just came together and I'm just proud of...everybody."
NAU had lost it coach of 12-plus seasons and had only days earlier gotten back guard Gabe Rogers, who missed two months recovering from shoulder surgery.
Saldivar started hot and stayed hot. The six-footer established new career highs for points (24) and threes made (six) and played all 40 minutes, sinking 6 of 8 threes. He also dished out nine assists, upstaging the taller and more athletically-gifted Keala King, his counterpart at the point for ASU.
"Once I made the first one, it's kind of a confidence thing," Saldivar said. "I just felt it (Saturday)."
The Lumberjacks had less talent, size and depth. Had ASU tried to post up their taller guards more often against the shorter 'Jacks, the story might have been different. But NAU played patiently, committed just nine turnovers and tied ASU for rebounds with 27. It also won despite a 56.3 field goal percentage for the Sun Devils, the highest under coach Herb Sendek in a loss.
NAU changed up its defensive looks often, Saldivar said, which might have crossed up the Devils. It was the second win over ASU for NAU since a 75-71 win at Wells Fargo Arena in November 2006.
"We stayed with it and it was a matter of our young men believing," Brown said. "It's about a group of young men, it's about a university and it's a privilege for me to be a part of that."
Brown, who was confident with Rogers, Saldivar and James Douglas as his three best shooters on the floor in the final minutes, was downright giddy, understandably so.
"Isn't it fun?" he said with a smile. "To have some senior citizen walk into their locker room and say we're going to try to play together and become a family was an interesting phenomenon to deal with."