The players from Minneapolis and Vermilion were going through the pregame warmup before Friday's last quarterfinal in the Minnesota Community and Technical College men's basketball tournament.

Minneapolis' Jay Pivec and Vermilion's Paul McDonald, a pair of veteran head coaches, were talking hoops near midcourt. The conversation was interrupted when several women of college age and carrying a distinctive big-city look came walking under a basket.

"Watch my players," McDonald said.

Pivec was puzzled for a moment, then noted that the firing of practice shots had ceased on Vermilion's end of the floor. It did not resume until the city gals had chosen a location from which to watch the game.

McDonald retold this story on Saturday afternoon, as he was enumerating reasons that Minneapolis is going to be sorely missed as a presence in the state JUCO basketball scene.

"This is a program with national prestige -- with a coach [Pivec] going into the junior college Hall of Fame next month," McDonald said. "Plus, we spent the winter in Ely, and coming here and playing in downtown Minneapolis ... that's an exciting thing for all of us."

McDonald said he has heard a couple of rival coaches express relief that the Minneapolis program is going away -- presumably, so their teams might have a clearer path to advancing through Minnesota to the JUCO Division III national tournament.

"All I can say when I hear that is, 'Are you crazy?'" McDonald said. "Jay Pivec creating this program at Minneapolis has been tremendous for all of us. Athletics are about competition, and if our kids beat Minneapolis, they had the satisfaction of beating the best."

Minneapolis came out hitting from long range Friday and eliminated Vermilion 88-67. That put Pivec's team in Saturday's semifinals against Central Lakes, the team from Brainerd that put up 100 points on Friday.

Rochester had survived 77-73 over Northland in the first semifinal. There were a few hundred people when that game started, the crowd kept getting larger and the Minneapolis gym was well-populated when the home team tipped off against Central Lakes.

Pivec is an intense coach in a routine situation, and it was far from that Saturday. His program was declared dead by school president Phil Davis months before the start of the 2009-10 season. That means the last game in the home gym would be played this weekend -- that it was a matter of when.

The idea for Pivec, and for Ron Gates, his assistant for the full 20 seasons at Minneapolis, was to put off the home finale until Sunday ... and then to play a few more games in the national tournament.

Getting to Sunday looked as if it was would be a cruise. Michael Welsh made six three-pointers over the Central Lakes zone in the first half and Minneapolis led 35-19.

The lead still was 48-32 midway through the second half. Then, Pivec's lads started dribbling into double-teams and giving up steals. The lead started to evaporate. The visitors' Nash Faulk made his fourth steal and went for a layup that sent the game to overtime at 58-58.

Minneapolis was running an offense that looked as if was the "Four Corners." The recycling of Dean Smith's famed offense was mentioned to Gates after the game and the assistant said:

"Guess what? It wasn't the Four Corners. The ball was supposed to go into the middle."

Pivec shook his head and said: "We didn't get that message through, I guess."

The shot clock was winding down for Minneapolis with 2 1/2 minutes left in overtime when Freddie Burton, a smallish freshman from Cooper, put up a three from the right sideline. It dropped for a 63-60 lead, and then Burton went 6-for-6 on free throws for a 69-63 victory.

The Olafeso twins, Kenny and Peter, and Ronald Kelly, and the outside shooter, Welsh, have been the season-long threats. When was the last time Fast Freddie Burton was the offensive star?

"Never," Pivec said. "But I did tell him after the fourth game of the season, when he missed a three at the end that would've tied Wahpeton, 'That's OK. You're going to have another chance and make a shot like that for us before the season's over.' It came today, in our biggest game."

"Biggest" because Minneapolis now has the last fling in its gym.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. •