INDIANAPOLIS — Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman and Washington coach Mike Neighbors will put their budding friendship on hold tonight.
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. … 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 taking 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 have made a stunning postseason run by beating Maryland and Kentucky on their home courts and conference rival Stanford for the Lexington Region title.
In the first meeting with Syracuse, the Huskies were trying to find their identity. And Neighbors learned something then: 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."