NASHVILLE, Tenn.-- Senior Sara James barely held her emotions at bay Sunday inside the stoic Stanford locker room after a 75-56 defeat to Connecticut in the Final Four at Bridgestone Arena.
"It's my last game of basketball I'll ever play," said James, who started but only played for 2 minutes.
James is part of a senior class that includes Chiney Ogwumike, Mikaela Ruef and Toni Kokenis, who had to medically retire because of concussions.
The players left an indelible mark on underclassmen in leading the Cardinal (33-4) back to the Final Four a year after getting eliminated by Georgia in the Sweet 16.
"Without the seniors it's going to be completely different next season," junior Bonnie Samuelson said.
While Ogwumike and Ruef are expected to play professionally, James plans to enroll in graduate school at Columbia University to earn a master's in pediatrics nursing.
"There has been some super highs and super lows," the guard said. "But I wouldn't change a thing."
Chiney Ogwumike didn't let the final minutes get to her emotionally.
"I wasn't really freaking out," she said.
Ogwumike's assessment of the Cardinal's game: "We played about 25 minutes of good defense. We needed to play 40 minutes."
But she found one positive, saying Stanford was more physical than Connecticut.
"People think we're soft but we showed them," Ogwumike said.
"It never felt like a blowout," said Ruef, who missed all five 3-point shots. "I'm sad, but I'm not disappointed. I wouldn't have done anything different. I would have taken those shots, played the same defense. I don't have any regrets."
The disparity at the free throw line bothered coach Tara VanDerveer. But her players had trouble challenging Connecticut's big front line of 6-foot-5 Stefanie Dolson, 6-4 Breanna Stewart and 6-3 Kiah Stokes.
UConn averaged only 11.8 fouls a game -- lowest in the country. A team with a six-player rotation committed only 10 fouls against Stanford.
Auriemma expects his team to be ready after surviving Stanford.
"We played one of the best games that we played all year, given the fact that we beat a really good team," he said.
The coach hopes the storyline brings more attention to women's basketball.
"Our sport probably doesn't have enough significant moments," Auriemma added.
He called the Fighting Irish "far and away the best team that I've seen this year. No one else is even close."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.