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Adia Barnes already has been to the NCAA Women's Final Four, and not all that long ago.
She was in her fifth season as an assistant coach at Washington in 2016 when the No. 7-seeded Huskies strung together wins over No. 2 Maryland, No. 3 Kentucky in Lexington and No. 4 Stanford to reach the first Final Four in school history.
Now in her fifth year as Arizona head coach, Barnes is on the verge of taking the Wildcats to their first Final Four.
No. 3 seed Arizona (19-5) plays No. 4 Indiana (21-5), also in the Elite Eight for the first time, on Monday in the Mercado regional final. The winner will extend their stay in San Antonio to play the River Walk region winner between Nos. 1 and 2 seeds Connecticut and Baylor on Friday.
"This reminds me a lot of the Washington run," Barnes said Sunday following Saturday night's win over Texas A&M in the Sweet 16. "We didn't feel any pressure then. We were just going out and playing, confident in our abilities and playing our best basketball at that time. We had a really good core (juniors Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor of Phoenix and senior Talia Walton) that believed in what we do and believed we could beat anybody."
It's the same for Arizona's core of seniors Aari McDonald and Sam Thomas and junior Cate Reese, who have played together for three seasons since McDonald followed Barnes from Seattle to Tucson.
The Wildcats were 20-40 in Barnes' first two seasons and 67-25 since, winning the WNIT in 2019 and now making the most of Arizona's first NCAA appearance since 2005.
"We're not afraid," Barnes said. "No one expected us to be here so just go out and play. There's nothing to lose. They don't give you a medal for the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or just making the tournament. We want to go do something special, and we believe we can do that. Right now, it's all Indiana."
The Hoosiers have made a similar ascension under seventh-year coach Teri Moren, winning the WNIT in 2018 and now with six consecutive 20-win seasons. They beat No. 1 seed North Carolina State, 73-70, in the Sweet 16 on Saturday while Arizona was disposing of No. 2 Texas A&M, 74-59, setting up an Elite Eight defensive duel between teams allowing less than 60 points per game (Arizona 55.3, Indiana 59.6).
"It could very well become that because you have two teams that play stingy defense," Moren said. "We're prepared for that. First and foremost, you've got to take care of the basketball. We have to be intentional about trying to get the ball inside to Mac (6-3 forward Mackenzie Holmes). We have to put pressure on them to have to guard, but we have to figure out how we can manufacture points. Sometimes that comes from the free throw line."
All five Indiana starters scored in double figures against North Carolina State with 6-3 forward Aleksa Gulbe and guard Grace Berger rebounding well enough for double-doubles.
McDonald, projected as a WNBA first-round draft pick, dominated against Texas A&M with 31 points (her career high is 44).
"Aari McDonald is fantastic," Moren said. "She's probably the fastest, quickest kid we'll face all year. When you have a kid like that, you can't allow the supporting cast to have big nights. She's a pro, and we've got to be able to guard her, but most importantly we've got to be able to keep them off the offensive glass and do a great job on her supporting cast."
Arizona scored 28 points off 19 Texas A&M turnovers while Indiana had 20 off 17 Wolfpack turnovers.
Connections between the teams extend beyond their defensive identities and recent WNIT success. Arizona starting guard Bendu Yeaney started her college career at Indiana, starting two seasons for the Hoosiers before transferring back west.
Barnes recruited Yeaney, who is from Portland, when she was at Washington.
"I always tell her she dumped me the first time and came back to me," Barnes said. "I've known her since she was in eighth grade. I was surprised when she went all the way across the country to Indiana. When she went in the (transfer) portal and had interest, I immediately wanted to take her back. I'm a big relationship person and I knew her, her work ethic, I knew she could help us. It was amazing getting her back. She's helped us tremendously."
Moren, perhaps understandably, is downplaying the significance of facing Yeaney in a game of such magnitude.
"It's just going to be another game for us," she said. "It doesn't matter who is over there. It's about my kids that are wearing Indiana across their chest. There's no emotional connection to having Bendu on the Arizona side. It's not Indiana against Bendu. It's Indiana against Arizona."
That's compelling enough for two teams venturing into uncharted postseason territory. Arizona played in the Sweet 16 in 1998 when Barnes was in her senior season playing for the Wildcats.
"We're playing our best basketball," she said. "We went through this lull for two weeks we weren't clicking but ever since the UCLA loss (at the Pac-12 Tournament), we got better and recharged. We're playing with a different sense of urgency right now. I'm optimistic we can do some really special things."
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: NCAA women: Winner of Arizona-Indiana will make first ever Final Four