DENVER – Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride can use the unfinished business mantra again next season.
But they are going to need some help after Notre Dame lost the national championship for the second straight season.
The Irish are losing seniors Devereaux Peters, Natalie Novosel and Brittany Mallory, a group that won 117 games, including three against perennial power UConn this season.
The three who helped shake up the Big East came up short Tuesday night against Baylor and its superstar center, Brittney Griner, who wrecked Notre Dame’s upset hopes by pouring in 26 points, snaring 13 rebounds and collecting five blocks while affecting just about every other shot the Irish took.
A year ago, the Irish (35-4) let a late lead slip away in a six-point loss to Texas A&M. This time, they were within 42-39 early in the second half before Griner took over and the Bears raced to an 80-61 blowout that capped the first 40-0 season in NCAA history.
The senior starters didn’t go out the way they wanted.
Peters played just 15 minutes because of foul trouble, extinguishing a plan to contain Griner by engaging her in the high post and keeping her away from the basket.
The Bears outscored the Irish 40-22 in the paint, and that was the difference.
Novosel, their leading scorer, missed all 11 of her shots, and Mallory, the shooting star in Notre Dame’s semifinal win over Connecticut, scored just three points.
All that shouldn’t sully all they’ve done for the Irish, insisted Diggins, a junior who plans to delay her WNBA career just like Griner and return for her senior year.
This is a great senior class, Diggins said.
This group beat UConn four times in their last five meetings and handed Geno Auriemma’s Huskies their only two losses in their last 22 NCAA tournament games. They also beat them at the Final Four last year.
Diggins said she will take the lessons learned from Tuesday night and try to live up to the outgoing senior class’s legacy in 2012-13.
Got to do a better job being a leader, Diggins said.
I thought I didn’t have good leadership out there tonight as far as keeping our fire. But I’ll do better, I promise.
Peters is a projected pick in the WNBA draft this month.
Natalie Achonwa, a sophomore, and Markisha Wright, a freshman, return next season as do freshmen Whitney Holloway and Madison Cable along with junior Kaila Turner and sophomore Ariel Braker.