SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw wiped away a tear and then another as the Fighting Irish were greeted by about two dozen fans as they returned to campus Wednesday after losing to Connecticut in the national championship game for a second straight season.
''One of the most disappointing things about losing is we weren't able to do it for the fans. That's what makes it hard,'' McGraw said moments later as tears welled up again. ''I wanted it for the team and I think we all wanted it for the fans.''
The Irish have come up frustratingly short in the Final Four for five straight seasons, losing in the title game four times. Despite losing 63-53 Tuesday night in Tampa, McGraw believes the Irish had the talent to win.
''Defensively, we did some really good things. We held them to 63 points,'' she said. ''We just shot the ball really poorly. Had we made just a couple more shots and a couple less turnovers, I think we're just so close. It's frustrating to get that close and know you could have really won the game.''
Notre Dame's hopes of making another run next season took a blow Wednesday night when Jewell Loyd, who finished second to Connecticut's Breanna Stewart in voting for The Associated Press Player of the Year award, announced she is entering the WNBA draft. Loyd was a unanimous All-America team selection and led the Irish in scoring at 19.8 points a game.
But the Irish return the other four starters and all of their role players are eligible to return, although guard Madison Cable needs to decide whether to come back for a fifth season. The Irish add three McDonald's All-Americans next season, the most in school history, giving them a total of eight on their roster.
McGraw said in a statement Wednesday night that Notre Dame's hopes remain high for next season.
''Our focus remains the same as it was moments after Tuesday night's national championship game ended,'' McGraw said.
The Irish next season will be seeking to become just the second team to advance to the Final Four for six straight seasons. The other is Connecticut, which is on a run of eight straight appearances and will be favored to win their 11th title overall next season.
The Huskies have knocked the Irish out of the tournament for three straight seasons and the loss Tuesday was the closest. Reserve guard Hannah Huffman dismissed talk about the Irish closing the gap with the Huskies.
''We're not going to close the gap until we win the national championship,'' she said in the locker room after the game. ''This is my third time being here, third time losing to the same team. I'm tired of them, I'm tired of losing. It's just so frustrating it's always them. Until we're the people out there, and they're the ones in here, there's no gap closed.''
Guard Michaela Mabrey said in the locker room after the game that the Irish need to play better offensively, saying the problem wasn't just missed shots.
''We weren't taking our shots,'' she said. ''Seemed like we were scared in a way. You know that comes with experience, I think, and that's why I think next year will be a lot different.''
The Irish are hoping next season ends with tears of joy.
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this story.