Former WNBA player Adia Barnes leads Arizona Wildcats to first Final Four

Updated: March 30, 2021

1:47 AM ET


CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

SAN ANTONIO — Arizona’s Adia Barnes on Monday became the second former WNBA player to coach a team into the Final Four of the women’s NCAA tournament, as her alma mater is making its first trip that far.

Barnes played in the WNBA from 1998 to 2004, finishing with a league championship with the Seattle Storm. She hopes the pipeline will continue beyond her and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, who took the Gamecocks to the Final Four in 2015 and 2017. Staley, who played in the WNBA from 1999 to 2006, won the NCAA title on the latter trip.

“It means the world to me, because I have created lifelong friendships throughout my years as a pro,” Barnes said after Mercado Region No. 3 seed Arizona beat 4-seed Indiana 66-53 in the Elite Eight on Monday at the Alamodome.

“I think there needs to be more WNBA players coaching women’s basketball. I want to see more. Dawn is someone who’s always believed in me and sent me a nice message. We all support each other. When you’ve played pro, you’ve walked the walk. I think a lot of players want to play for someone who’s been there.”

Barnes’ Arizona playing career ended in the 1998 Sweet 16 against UConn, the team her Wildcats will face on Friday in the national semifinals. After her WNBA and overseas playing career came to a close, Barnes got into coaching. She went to the Final Four as an assistant at Washington in 2016, but now she makes her own trip in just her fifth season as a head coach.

Did she expect it this soon for her and the Wildcats?

“I mean, if you would have told me, ‘Oh, this year we’re gonna be playing UConn in the Final Four,’ I would have said, ‘OK, I don’t know about that,'” Barnes said, smiling. “But it became a reality that we could do something really special last year. Just the way that we won games, it really helped us. I felt like last year, we would have gone deep in the tournament.

“I’m so proud, because I’m looking in their eye now, and there’s a fire, there’s a belief, there’s a confidence.”

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