They can't forget how their first and last trip ended, seemingly in a blink, leaving them dazed and grappling with a measure of finality they had not imagined.
Cal's Golden Bears last March were one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Maryland in what could be described as a mild upset.
In the hush of a locker room where the air was heavy with sorrow and regret, only one thought kept afloat the spirits of just about everyone peeling off a jersey before boarding a jet and going back to Berkeley.
There would be another year, another chance.
That chance arrived Sunday, when Cal received its second consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament. The No. 8 seed Golden Bears (23-10) meet ninth-seeded Louisville (20-12) Friday in a first-round game in Jacksonville, Fla.
It's the opportunity for redemption for which Cal has hoped and played and perhaps even prayed. It's what drove the seniors through the practices, through the games of the past four months, through one of the toughest schedules in the nation, all the way to a Pac-10 regular-season championship.
Self-doubt has over the past year given way to self-assurance.
"I think it's our destiny to be where we are," senior guard Patrick Christopher said after the tournament brackets were announced.
"This year, we expected it all year long," senior forward Jamal Boykin added. "You have a different swagger when you feel you're going to be there."
Four senior starters — Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson, Christopher and Boykin — realize there won't be another "next year" for them in the same uniform. They'll leave Cal and scatter toward various professional opportunities, which won't necessarily be confined to this country and may or may not involve basketball.
They also understand how rare it is these days in major college basketball for four players to stay at one school for the bulk of their careers. Randle, Christopher and Robertson entered Cal as freshmen; Boykin transferred after one season at Duke. Each has been a starter or a key contributor every season. None had represented Cal in the NCAA Tournament before last season.
"This group is an experienced group that has developed into good players," coach Mike Montgomery said.
So they can see where this is going. They can feel it. They're counting the days before they break up as teammates, if not friends.
"Knowing it could be your last game," Christopher said, "you definitely have to be ready to bring the passion."
"Time has been really flying by," Randle said. "I know these are going to be the last games of my college career. The next game really could be the last game. I don't want it to be over. I'm not ready for that."
This ambition, this sense of urgency, was missing last March. The Bears, a No. 7 seed, took the floor at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and never found a rhythm. The 10th-seeded Terrapins were bigger and more physical. They dictated the pace, controlled the action and came away with an 84-71 victory.
That Cal team, however, limped into the tournament. The Bears finished fourth in the Pac-10 regular season and were knocked out in the first round of the conference tournament by USC. They entered the NCAAs having lost three of four.
These Bears finished atop the conference in the regular season and reached the championship game of the Pac-10 tournament. They have won six of their past seven, nine of their past 11.
"A year ago we lost our edge a little bit," Montgomery said. "The accomplishment of getting there overshadowed (our desire to succeed).
"Now I think the notion of these kids is, 'We're going to get in there and win.' We've determined who we are."
Maybe that's why their eyes, so wide with wonder last March, when they were grateful for the invitation and the novelty that came with it, are now narrowed in focus.
"We're not intimidated and we're confident in our abilities," Boykin said.
"I've enjoyed this group so much," Christopher said. "Knowing it has to end, regardless of how it ends, is going to be a sad day. But we'd rather go out on a high. Who cares what we did in the past? We're back in it. Let's go get it."
Such confidence was absent last time, and so was the perspective. They're more experienced and, moreover, they seem more engaged.
Maybe because they believe this time that they belong. Surely because they know this is the last ticket they'll receive for this party.
Contact Monte Poole at email@example.com.