Huskies, Orange try to keep changes under wraps for rematch
INDIANAPOLIS >> Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman and Washington coach Mike Neighbors will put their budding friendship on hold Sunday night.
After four months of trading text messages, learning about one another's team and watching their own teams evolve into national championship contenders, the two first-time Final Four coaches will square off for the second time this season.
The winner will get a ticket to Tuesday's women's championship game — and will have one more fan in the crowd.
"You want to win a game, but you still have to maintain some kind of normalcy in your life," Hillsman said. "Neighbors is a good guy and really I respect him and respect what he does. That's one of those things where you — I'm not that guy, we're not playing against each other. We've got to put a game plan together and let our kids go and play."
Those players have already met once this season, with Syracuse jumping to an early 21-point lead before holding off the hard-charging Huskies 66-62.
But a lot has changed in that time, especially at Washington.
After finishing fifth in the Pac-12, the Huskies (26-10) have made a stunning postseason run by beating Maryland on its home court, Kentucky on its home court and conference rival Stanford in the Lexington Region title game. They are the first No. 7 seed to reach the national semifinals since Minnesota in 2004.
Back then, the surprising Huskies were still trying to find their identity. Today, they're a confident, relaxed bunch eager to play.
Neighbors learned something else during that game — it's not easy matching wits with Hillsman.
"We can't simulate (Syracuse) without having our guys' practice team here," Neighbors said. "You would have to break down an inordinate amount of film and spend a lot of time to try to predict what they do. So the challenge is adjusting in the game and about the time you do that, so does Q. He's a really good in-game coach. Every time you make an adjustment, he's got a counterpunch."
Syracuse's players can apply additional pressure with their three-guard lineup of Alexis Peterson, Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes, too.
The Orange also have made some changes since November.
"We understand we're a good team, a really good team," Peterson said.
While Syracuse has won 15 of its last 16, Washington is trying to join Tennessee's 1997 title team as the only 10-loss programs to play for a national title.
But the two coaches know this much: Their friendship will survive this game.
"He's going to outdress me tomorrow and there's no chance I can win that. I'm not even going to try," Neighbors said. "But he's somebody that I think has done it the right way."
Here are some other things to watch Sunday:
PLUM'S CHASE: Huskies guard Kelsey Plum is No. 3 in the nation at 26.2 points per game. The junior guard needs 25 points to break Chiney Ogwumike's Pac-12 scoring record (967), and she needs 57 points for a 1,000-point season.
TURNOVERS: Syracuse leads the nation in turnover-margin at plus-10.28 by forcing 24.22 turnovers per game, the most in the ACC. The Huskies, meanwhile, have only 34 turnovers in four NCAA Tournament games.
THREE FOR THE SHOW: Both teams made it to Indy largely because of their perimeter play. Syracuse led the ACC and is 11th nationally in 3-pointers made per game (8.9). Butler is Division I's active leader with 368 3s. Washington is second in the Pac-12 with 7.2 3s per game.
ADAPTING: With two Final Four newcomers, there could be some early game jitters. Whichever team copes best will have the early edge. But the deep shooting backgrounds and festive environment inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse could be a factor, too.
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