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Moore’s career ends with loss to Irish

Connecticut's Maya Moore is interviewed after Connecticut's 72-63 loss to Notre Dame in a women's NCAA Final Four semifinal college basketball game in Indianapolis, Monday, April 4, 2011.

Connecticut's Maya Moore is interviewed after Connecticut's 72-63 loss to Notre Dame in a women's NCAA Final Four semifinal college basketball game in Indianapolis, Monday, April 4, 2011. Photo by The Associated Press.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The cheers rang in Maya Moore’s ears as she took a seat on the Connecticut bench for the final time. Just 1.1 seconds remained in her college career and the ending was far sadder than she had ever imagined.

For once, everything Moore did for Connecticut wasn’t quite enough.

Notre Dame beat the Huskies 72-63 Sunday night, shattering Moore’s hopes of leading her team to a third straight national championship. And if it was difficult for Moore to get a handle on what had just happened, it’s understandable.

Of the 154 games Connecticut played with Moore in uniform, this was only the fourth the Huskies lost. To think she’ll never play for the Huskies again — it was hard to comprehend.

“It’s something I haven’t been really thinking about a lot,” Moore said, pausing to brush a tear from her left eye. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

What had sunk in was that Notre Dame, not Moore and the Huskies, will play Texas A&M in the national championship game Tuesday night. Notre Dame had been 0-3 against UConn this season, but won the game that mattered most.

“There’s always positives and negatives out of everything,” she said. “I’m going to have to choose to remember the great things and how fortunate I was to be a part of so many record-breaking seasons, games, whatever it may be.

“It’s just tough because it’s the current taste in my mouth now. I’ll just have to deal with it.”

Moore was her usual brilliant self in scoring 36 points against the Irish, putting up the third-highest total in a national semifinal as Diana Taurasi, a three-peat champion at UConn, watched from the stands. Down the stretch, the four-time All-American and two-time national player of the year scored 16 straight points to keep the Huskies within striking distance.

But Notre Dame got strong games from its own stars, Skylar Diggins (28 points) and Natalie Novosel (22), and answered Moore’s surge to secure its most satisfying victory of the season.

Moore took no consolation in her scoring feat.

“There’s always more you feel like you can do,” she said. “I feel like I could have done more. It’s tough, really, to think about what I did.’

Moore didn’t shoot well early, but caught fire after Notre Dame opened a 59-47 lead, flashing the smooth touch that had carried UConn to so many victories during her career. It was vintage Maya.

During a stretch of a little more than 4 minutes, Moore hit a short pull-up jumper, converted a three-point play, hit a 3-pointer, nailed another jumper and knocked in another 3.

That left the Huskies trailing just 63-60 with 2:24 to go, plenty of time to finish a comeback.

But not on this night. Notre Dame responded with two quick baskets for a 67-60 lead and that proved too much for even Moore to overcome.

The last shot of her college career was a leaning, forced jumper on which she was trying to draw a foul. None was called.

With 1.1 seconds remaining, UConn coach Geno Auriemma allowed his star to get one last round of cheers. He took her out of the game and the Connecticut fans gave her a standing ovation as she trotted to the bench, her face showing no trace of emotion.

She hugged Auriemma and her teammates and just like that, it was over. She hugged some of the Notre Dame players, then turned and headed for the locker room, head still high but never again to wear her No. 23 Connecticut jersey.

Auriemma said Sunday night’s loss won’t tarnish what Moore accomplished in her career, which included leading the Huskies on a record 90-game winning streak.

“I’m going to think more about the best player in the history of the Big East and maybe the best student-athlete in the history of college basketball,” he said. “I’m not going to let her be defined by what happened tonight.”

Moore finished the game 14-for-30 from the field, including 5-for-13 from 3-point range. She grabbed eight rebounds, made four steals and handed out two assists.

But all those numbers failed to produce what she wanted the most — another national championship.

“I loved my whole time here,” Moore said. “I can’t really pinpoint a (standout) moment. A lot of people would think the national championships, but there’s so many things that go into a national championship. It’s just the whole journey.

“The fact I have a whole new family I didn’t have four years ago is probably the highlight.”

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