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Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer has strong ties to Adia Barnes

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Washington guard Kelsey Plum dribbles around a defender. Plum will take on her former coach Adia BArnes when the Washington Huskies face Arizona Friday in McKale.

Adia Barnes is looking for the next great Wildcat, the player who will take the program to another level, a player that will elevate everyone else’s standards and work ethic, a player like Washington Huskies gaurd Kelsey Plum. Barnes was one of the people responsible for bringing Plum to Seattle, prior to taking over as Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball head coach.

Barnes’ relationship with Plum and several others on Washington is strong; however, those feelings will be set aside for the first matchup of the season between the two teams.

       VIDEO: Kelsey Plum work ethic

“It’s a place that has my heart because I spent so many years in that city,” Barnes said. “Coach [Mike] Neighbors and I are good friends so [there are] a lot of special memories, but I am a competitor so I want to win, especially since we’re at home.”

The Wildcats will have their hands full to say the least. The Huskies come into Friday’s matchup ranked No. 8 nationally and led by Plum, with one of the more dynamic offenses in the country. The huskies have the No.5-ranked offense in the country and are No. 1 in the Pac-12, Plum’s 30.7-points-per-game average is a big reason why.

“I think Kelsey is a phenomenal player; she’ll be a pro player,” Barnes said. “She is one of the hardest working players that I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been around some of the best players in the world throughout my career. There is no one that works harder than her and just to watch her grow every year and watch her evolve into a great leader too, I was the one who challenged her to be Academic All-American and she got that. So I am really happy she is someone I still talk to a lot.”

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Two games ago Plum scored 34 points against USC, going 5 for 7 from the free throw line. A good night by most standards, but Plum isn’t like most players.

“Coach Morgan Valley and I have this agreement [that each free throw] missed is a 16 line [a sprint to each end of the court], so I’ll have 32 of them tomorrow,” Plum said to Pac-12 Networks.

Plum represents what Barnes wants in players, what she is trying to employ within the team and the type of basketball junkie she is targeting on the recruiting trail.

Barnes doesn’t take complete credit for recruiting Plum, but she does acknowledge she had a big hand in her recruitment.

Plum is from the San Diego area, as is Barnes, so the relationship was solid from the beginning and the Huskies reaped the benefits.

       VIDEO: Kelsey Plum compared to James Harden

Plum’s gym rat mentality was the engine behind Washington’s Final Four run last season. That could’ve been the peak for the senior, but it wasn’t. Her numbers this season have been better, not a good sign for an Arizona Wildcats team that is middle of the pack in conference scoring defense.

Plum has dropped 44 points in a game three times this season, along with a 39-point performance against UCLA, her last time out. Plum is just 29 points shy of reaching the 3,000-point mark and becoming the 12th player in NCAA women’s basketball history to accomplish that feat.

“It’s really hard to match her,” Barnes said. “We’d have a three-hour practice and she’d do a two-a-day on her own. So, it’s the thing that separates her, makes her such a great player. She came into Washington and became a team captain as a freshman … She is the person that changed the culture. She was in there working so much extra, then she brought one [player], then two [players] and then it just became the norm … She is a player that [only] comes around every 10 years.”

Trying to develop a program that has been at the bottom of the conference is hard.

Taking on a team you helped build and that is in position to make another Final Four run can make matters worse, emotions involved or not.

“The cool thing about Adia is that, first of all, she wants to win,” said assistant coach Sunny Smallwood. “She loves those people [Washington], they are her people. She recruited all those kids, those staff members, she worked side-by-side. That is not a little thing to be taken for granted because there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in all that. It’s hard, it’s really hard.”

Barnes and the Wildcats will look to pull off the upset, but in order to do that she’ll have to put away whatever emotions or feelings she may have about Washington.

Most importantly, she will have to find a way to get her new team to stop the best scorer in the country, a task nobody else has been able to manage.


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