SAN ANTONIO — Even within the cavernous Alamodome and in entrance of a nationwide TV viewers, Adia Barnes noticed solely the faces within the huddle. Her Arizona Wildcats had slayed a large, and she or he had yet another message for these doubters who had underestimated her group. The coach let free with a euphoric expletive and shortly threw up the center finger on each arms.
If underdog Arizona, a No. 3 seed and in its first ladies’s Remaining 4, hadn’t immediately turn out to be the event darling with its victory over 11-time nationwide champion UConn, Barnes’ now-viral second captured the unrestrained pleasure and enthusiasm that defines her program in addition to a legion of recent followers.
“I am simply me. I do not know the way to be anything,” Barnes mentioned. “I simply do what I really feel.”
In abnormal circumstances, Tara VanDerveer, making an attempt to win her first nationwide championship in 29 years, could be the sentimental favourite in Sunday’s ladies’s NCAA title recreation (6 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App). However Arizona’s Barnes and the Wildcats have turn out to be the squad for anybody who has ever felt missed and underestimated.
Possibly it is as a result of she appears so relatable, tweeting about being “spit up on and pooped on” by her 6½-month-old daughter earlier than 5 a.m. on the day of the nationwide semifinals. Or perhaps it is the calm, assured demeanor that was as cool as her Versace sneakers as she guided the Wildcats to the most important win in program historical past later that evening. With ladies’s basketball gamers, coaches and followers asking questions on how they’re handled, Barnes is the epitome of resolve, hope and dreaming massive.
“I really feel like your group feeds off of you. I believe we’re assured,” Barnes mentioned. “The group I see is a mirrored image of me. I used to be scrappy. I wasn’t afraid. I used to be powerful, bodily. I used to be at all times undersized and at all times had a chip on my shoulder. I hope they get that from me, as a result of I take pleasure in that.”
Sunday’s championship recreation marks the primary all-Pac-12 ultimate within the ladies’s or males’s NCAA event, and the league is assured its first ladies’s title since VanDerveer’s final in 1992. The Pac-12 has steadily been gaining floor, particularly lately. The league has had 4 first-time Remaining 4 groups previously six seasons, and Barnes has been a coach for 2 of them: as an assistant for Washington in 2016 and now as head coach with Arizona. And now she’s simply the second Division I ladies’s school basketball coach to steer her group to the nationwide championship recreation in her first NCAA event as a head coach, becoming a member of co-head coach Leon Barmore of Louisiana Tech in 1983.
A particular evening for a particular group. pic.twitter.com/6gH9f24mPt
— Arizona Girls’s Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) April 3, 2021
Barnes was not a closely recruited participant out of San Diego within the early Nineties. However then-Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini noticed the identical issues in Barnes as a highschool senior that individuals see now in her as a coach: a aggressive drive, an aggressiveness, a pure management mentality.
“With Adia, there was one thing about her that I actually favored,” Bonvicini mentioned. “Adia at all times would say that I noticed one thing in her earlier than she even noticed it in herself. However she was good for us straight away.”
As an undersized ahead, Barnes was league participant of the 12 months as a senior, main the Wildcats to the Candy 16, the place they fell to UConn in 1998. Friday evening, 23 years later, one other scrappy participant that she was teaching, 5-foot-6 guard Aari McDonald, had 26 factors and 7 rebounds in main the Wildcats over UConn.
McDonald was one in all 10 gamers named to the WBCA All-American group Saturday, however Barnes nonetheless thinks she is underappreciated. Add within the NCAA-made Remaining 4 video that by some means forgot to incorporate the Wildcats, the truth that so few picked them to even make the Remaining 4 … it has all been gasoline to Barnes’ fireplace.
She performed professionally within the WNBA and abroad, the place she met her husband Salvo Coppa, who’s one in all her assistant coaches. The 2 have balanced their work and two kids whereas constructing a program that has turn out to be the story of the 2021 ladies’s event.
Barnes’ contract was prolonged initially of the event, and she or he has talked about how she did not pay attention when individuals instructed her to not take the Arizona job, that it could be too arduous to recruit, not to mention win there.
The Wildcats went 14-16 throughout her first season, in 2016-17, after which struggled much more the next 12 months, going 6-24 as McDonald, the 2017 Pac-12 freshman of the 12 months, sat out after transferring from Washington. Arizona received 24 video games in every of the previous two seasons, successful the 2019 WNIT title. Again within the NCAA event for the primary time since 2005, the Wildcats had by no means been previous the Candy 16. Now they may very well be 40 minutes from their first nationwide championship.
After they’re not going head-to-head, VanDerveer admits she often roots for Barnes, and mentioned she loves the whole lot Barnes brings to the game and the way she has turned round her alma mater.
“They are not a one-trick pony,” VanDerveer mentioned. “I respect the truth that she took over a program that was on the backside and she or he’s constructed them up.
“We’ll compete, and I need the nationwide championship trophy to return to Palo Alto. However I am actually pleased with Adia.”
Barnes might turn out to be the second former WNBA participant to win an NCAA championship as a coach, following South Carolina’s Daybreak Staley in 2017. She could be the third Black lady to win the title, after Carolyn Peck at Purdue in 1999 and Staley.
“Coach Barnes is a troublesome cookie,” McDonald mentioned. “I do not know the way she’s doing the issues she’s doing — being a mom, being a coach. However she finds the time, and she or he has the best individuals round serving to her.
“To see what she’s doing, on this platform, she’s creating alternatives for moms, for Black ladies throughout the nation. It’s extremely inspiring. She’s an incredible particular person to be round.”