NEW ORLEANS — Skylar Diggins was impassive when it ended Sunday night at New Orleans Arena, walking to the bench and wrapping a towel around her neck after coach Muffet McGraw took her out of the game with 20 seconds to play.
Maybe Diggins' stoicism owed to her having several minutes to realize that her career — greatest for a woman in Notre Dame basketball history — was going to end without a national championship, because the NCAA semifinal against Connecticut had gotten completely out of her team's grasp with four minutes to go.
The tears would come later, when Diggins tried to finish the news conference after Notre Dame's 83-65 loss by thanking Irish fans and her hometown of South Bend for their support. She could not complete the thoughts without breaking down and walking out of the room.
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"I hate for it to end on a game like this," McGraw said, clearly speaking of both the season and Diggins' career, "when we played so poorly."
The 30-game Notre Dame winning streak ended because the Irish (35-2) shot less than 30 percent. Diggins (3 of 15), Kayla McBride (5 of 20) and Jewell Loyd (5 of 17), the team's usual offensive leaders, never got going against a relentlessly intense and physical UConn defense.
"You have to give credit to their defense and pressure for making us take quick shots," Diggins said. "I thought we got some shots we wanted and didn't knock them down."
The Huskies (34-4) will be heavily favored to win their eighth national championship Tuesday night against fifth-seeded Louisville, the lowest seed ever to play for the title.
A 14-3 run gave Connecticut a 10-point halftime lead. The Irish cut it to six with 6 minutes, 26 seconds to play but could get no closer as the Huskies ended a four-game losing streak against the Irish.
Diggins found some solace in what she said UConn coach Geno Auriemma had told her after the game.
"He told me not to let this game define my legacy and said I have done more for the sport than some people who have won four national championships," she said.
As her team made the Final Four three straight years, losing twice in the championship game, Diggins became the face of women's college basketball and Notre Dame's all-time leading scorer.
She went out with 10 points, eight assists, six turnovers, four steals and, remarkably for a 5-foot-8 player, three blocks.
The player who earned the big acclaim Sunday was Connecticut freshman forward Breanna Stewart, who had a career-high 29 points, four blocks, five rebounds and a high pain threshold, leaving the game only briefly after slamming her right shoulder into a Notre Dame screener.
"I have never seen a freshman have a game like this in this environment," Auriemma said.
Stewart, of Syracuse, N.Y., had been chosen by six different groups as national high school player of the year in 2012. She began her college career with performances that demonstrated the reason for those accolades before going into a lengthy slump that ended in the Big East tournament.
"I think getting back to just playing basketball instead of focusing on doing anything special has really helped me to play well late in the season," Stewart said.