Defeat was a difficult pill for the Irish to swallow

South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Losing was difficult, especially since it hadn’t happened this season.

But a 21-point thumping was really hard to process.

Walk into the Notre Dame women’s basketball team’s locker room 15 minutes after its 79-58 national championship loss to Connecticut (40-0) Tuesday night and study the faces.

Not necessarily shock. Maybe some disappointment. A few tears. Resolution was rampant. The Irish had about 30 minutes in the game to get used to the idea of the mismatch.

The outcome was inevitable before the first half was 10 minutes old.

It had been a year since Notre Dame (37-1) was on that end of a decision. Again, it was UConn that delivered the spanking.

The first sullen expression, just inside the door, belonged to Skylar Diggins. She went through the highs and lows of the Final Four with her former teammates. While Kayla McBride and Michaela Mabrey were off with coach Muffet McGraw at the formal interview area, sophomore Jewell Loyd was the designated spokesperson of the team.

Loyd didn’t flinch as the gaggle of media crowded around to hear her assessment of the carnage.

No way to sugar coat what had just transpired. No way to sidestep a stat like the Irish being outscored 52-22 in the paint.

Markeisha Wright, Sunday’s hero off the bench against Maryland (12 points, nine rebounds), sat all by herself. No points in 10 minutes won’t attract much of a frenzy. Madison Cable’s face was red, obviously the aftermath of tears.

This was such a thorough beating, it was hard to feel too badly.

Were the Huskies better than the Irish thought they would be?

“You know, they were,” said McGraw, when she finally joined her players behind closed doors. “I thought they were pretty good, but they were better than that.

“They definitely played with such poise tonight.”

“(Connecticut) came out and punched us in the mouth,” said Irish freshman post Taya Reimer.

“We were beating ourselves,” said McBride, still with a scowl on her face. “We were not in the offensive flow we normally are. We took shots we normally don’t take. Not making the extra pass. We were being selfish, myself included.

“They weren’t better than I thought they were. We just didn’t play well.”

Boy, they sure didn’t play well. This was hardly the same Notre Dame team that started fast and finished faster against Maryland Sunday night. The Irish looked more like the deer in the headlights into which they turned the Terps.

Saturday, every one of the key Notre Dame players talked about how they aren’t intimidated by playing Connecticut. Define intimidation. The Huskies dictated the direction of the game and dared the Irish to counteract their toughness.

Inside and out, everything Notre Dame tried was challenged. Shots were altered. Intensity couldn’t be matched.

If that’s not intimidation, the textbook definition could stand a revision.

Looking ahead less than an hour after such a devastating defeat was nothing but hollow words. This loss is going to sting a while, as well it should.

A 37-win season shouldn’t end with such a lopsided loss. So much of the work that went into fashioning such an amazing run will be clouded with a “yeah, but…”

It’s a big step back for a program that took so many paces forward this season.

The long faces in the locker room acknowledged the regression.

It just didn’t make sense.

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride sit on the bench in the final moments of the NCAA Women's Basketball National Championship game on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, inside the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)