Andrew Calder exhaled and finally expressed just how much North Carolina missed Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell, in crunch time and at halftime. In the locker room and on the bench.
Her virtual game plans proved plenty helpful along the way, yet the young North Carolina women's team ran into quite a task Tuesday night: winning the Stanford regional on the Cardinal's home court while trying to stop a determined senior duo of Chiney Ogwumike and Mikaela Ruef.
Allisha Gray scored 19 points for No. 4 seed North Carolina in a 74-65 loss, denying the Tar Heels (27-10) a Final Four reunion with Hatchell after the coach's season-long battle with leukemia.
"We did some things at the end I wish we could replay," said Calder, the associate coach who admirably filled in during Hatchell's ordeal. "I'm not going to look back. Having a Hall of Fame coach on the bench could have made a difference."
Ogwumike had 20 points and 10 rebounds on a night she wasn't her best, Ruef scored a career-high 17 points on the way to regional MVP honors in front of the cheering Maples Pavilion crowd and Stanford returns to the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years after last year's disappointing miss.
Amber Orrange added 14 and Bonnie Samuelson knocked down three 3-pointers for 13 points off the bench for Stanford (33-3), which heads to Nashville, Tenn., for the program's 12th Final Four.
Diamond DeShields was limited to 13 points on 5 for 15 shooting for North Carolina, missing all but one of her six 3-point tries.
DeShields played with no signs of injury after the freshman star sprained her right ankle and tweaked her left knee during a semifinal win against South Carolina on Sunday night. She said they'd have to strap her down to keep her off the court for this game.
DeShields, the one Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said wears No. 23 at North Carolina for a reason in reference to Michael Jordan, never found the groove that made her a nemesis for defenses nationwide during a sensational rookie college season.
"I refuse to make excuses. I felt able enough to go out and give it 100 percent," she said. "There were moments where the momentum could have changed for us. There were a couple of iffy fouls called, a lot of stuff happened that could have helped."
North Carolina got the ball back with 49 seconds left and a chance after an offensive foul on Ruef but Xylina McDaniel missed a layin on the left side and Ruef secured the rebound. Samuelson converted two free throws with 21.1 to go.
When Orrange drove for a left-handed layin with 9.6 seconds remaining, Ogwumike went to her knees and pumped her arms. Stanford protected its unbeaten home record with one last memorable win to send Ogwumike, Ruef and the seniors out in style.
"In 40 minutes our team I thought showed great resilience," VanDerveer said. "I'm so proud of how we battled. We didn't go anywhere last year."
Samuelson's third 3-pointer of the game capped a 15-2 Stanford run with 13:09 to play that put the Cardinal ahead 48-42 before Danielle Butts' basket ended a 5 1/2-minute scoring drought for North Carolina.
Ogwumike's layin pulled Stanford within 42-41 with 16:09 left, then she drew a foul on Stephanie Mavunga for pushing off moments later and scored again to give the Cardinal their first lead since the opening minute and send the near-capacity crowd into a frenzy.
"We always do good in away games, but with such a huge crowd and such a big game, I think they had an advantage," guard Jessica Washington said. "But it's nothing we can't handle in the future. We did well handling the adversity, but some things just didn't go our way at the end of the game this time."
Stanford freshman Lili Thompson, who shut down Penn State star Maggie Lucas in the semis, flustered DeShields and added 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
With so many players in foul trouble, the Tar Heels couldn't match their physical play in the second half they had in the opening 20 minutes.
"The second half we couldn't play as hard as we wanted to," McDaniel said. "We couldn't be as physical as we wanted. We battled hard to stop post players but we couldn't."