ALBANY, N.Y. -- Katie Lou Samuelson's older sister, Karlie, had moved on to Stanford as she entered her junior year at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California. It didn't take long for her to develop a family-like tie with one of the Monarchs' newcomers -- Jayda Adams.
The two will be together again Saturday but on different sidelines. Samuelson and the top-seeded University of Connecticut women's basketball face Adams and No. 5 Duke in a NCAA tournament Albany Regional semifinal at the Times Union Center.
"I love her. In high school I called her my little sister," Samuelson said. "When I was a junior, she was the only freshman on varsity. I saw her develop as a player at Mater Dei and I've watched her since she got to Duke. I'm happy for her and excited to see her."
Adams has grown into a 6-footer. The Blue Devils' freshman guard has seen action in all 32 of Duke's games off the bench behind veteran guards Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell. In 12.8 minutes per game, the Irvine, California, native is averaging 1.7 points and 0.7 assists.
"I have grown a lot and my teammates and coaches have helped me with that," Adams said. "I appreciate everything they have done with me.
"I'm obviously very excited. I love Lou as a person and a player. I learned a lot from her in high school and it will be fun to reminisce. She was a great teammate. She always picked up the others on her team. I learned a lot about leadership from her."
Samuelson nearly faced a former Mater Dei teammate a year ago in the Sweet 16, but UCLA center Ally Rosenblum missed the contest with the Huskies with an injury.
Mater Dei has been a national power for years under coach Kevin Kiernan. Samuelson, the Huskies' junior All-American, has played against a number of her former USA Basketball teammates. She's excited about representing Mater Dei today.
"There are a lot of players who have come out of that program and have done amazing things," Samuelson said. "Some high schools get maybe one or two players that move on to college. Mater Dei seems to produce excellent players every single year.
"It's awesome to see people you grew up with or played with getting this opportunity. This is brand new for Jayda. Clearly, I want to pick on her a little bit since it is her first year. It's funny to see how things come full circle."
TONING IT DOWN
UConn coach Geno Auriemma did not add much Friday to his criticism of Cincinnati and its athletic director Mike Bohn that followed the firing of coach Jamelle Elliott, the former UConn player and assistant, Thursday.
"Obviously I was surprised," Auriemma said. "I mean, if you were going to fire her, you should have fired her two years ago when they were able. Don't wait until they build the program back up and finish fourth, the highest they've ever done and the best they've ever done, and then say, 'OK, we're going to bring in somebody new now that they have a pretty good team to coach.'
"I just thought it was bad timing. And there's a lot of deeper issues that are going on there, believe me, that go beyond someone getting let go. Losing your job in this profession, that's expected. If you're not any good and people want to get rid of you, that's fine. But the way it was done and when it was done, given the circumstances ... But then again, knowing what I know, I'm not surprised."
Elliott was 113-162 in nine seasons with the Bearcats. Cincinnati just concluded the best year in her tenure with a 19-13 mark, even though it played its home games in a high school gymnasium as Fifth Third Arena was renovated. The Bearcats finished fourth in the American Athletic Conference, reached their first conference tournament semifinal since 2003, and advanced to the WNIT where their season ended with a first-round loss to Michigan State. It was their second WNIT bid in the Elliott year.
Auriemma turned to Twitter to express his disappointment in Bohn's decision.
"Positively disgraceful that Jamelle Elliott was let go at Cincinnati. Anyone interested in that job would be well advised to do their homework," he tweeted.
Also tweeting their support of Elliott were her former UConn teammates Rebecca Lobo and Jennifer Rizzotti.
AT HOME IN BUFFALO
Senior guard Katherine Ups took the word of Buffalo assistant coach and fellow Australian Cherie Cordoba that the weather in upstate New York was typical when she decided to travel nearly 10,000 miles and join the Bulls' program four years ago.
"I had never been outside of Australia before I got on a plane to New York City and caught a bus to Buffalo," Ups said. "Coach Cherie had told me it actually wasn't that cold in Buffalo. She kind of lied.
"One day it was minus-25 and I'm walking home from class and it was the middle of a blizzard. All I thought was, 'This snow is not for me.' "
But Ups, her twin sister Liisa, senior Stephanie Reid, and junior Courtney Wilkins are Australians who have found a second home in Buffalo. They've also found a spot in the Bulls' first Sweet 16. Buffalo, the No. 11 seed, faces second-seeded and reigning national champion South Carolina in the first Albany Regional semifinal Saturday.
The Bulls, out of the Mid-American Conference, advanced with impressive wins over South Florida and Florida State in Tallahassee.
"What we're doing at school has helped Buffalo become a sports destination," Ups said. "We've shown the bigger conferences that our little mid-major conference is capable of doing things that not many people thought we could do."
Reid, who is second in scoring (12.2) and tops in assists (6.9) on the team, has noticed the city and school rallying around her squad. She is not surprised.
"The whole sports community comes together whether they're supporting us, the men, or any Buffalo team," Reid said. "It revolves around sports. Bills fans are nuts. They just buy into their sports in Buffalo."
Ups, whose favorite player is former UConn star Diana Taurasi, agreed.
"I would have never believed how crazy sports fans they are," Ups said. "The people in Buffalo love Buffalo. They don't see anything wrong with the cold and snow. They live in five feet of snow for four months out of the year and they think it's normal."
Weather aside, Reid would not trade her experiences since her arrival in 2014.
"I've had four straight years of winter," Reid said. "I go home for summer break and it's winter back there. I miss my summers. But I love the city. I love Buffalo. I take pride in being part of it now. It's home."
Gabby Williams hates losing, even if it's a team she's only rooting for.
Williams grew up in Sparks, Nevada, near the University of Nevada-Reno campus. Her father, Matt, and sister, Kayla, played for the Wolf Pack. The school hosted Williams and UConn for her homecoming game in November.
The Nevada men played in their first NCAA Sweet 16 game in 14 years and second overall Thursday night. The Wolf Pack's 69-68 loss to Loyola of Chicago in a South Regional semifinal in Atlanta was tough for the UConn senior to take.
"I don't want to talk about it. It's too hard," Williams said. "To come this far against Loyola and missing out taking the next step, it sucks."
Nevada, which overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Texas and a 22-point deficit to get past Cincinnati, found itself down 10 in the second half Thursday night. Loyola's lead was one when Marques Townes hit a 3-pointer to make it 69-65 with 6.3 seconds left. Caleb Martin's trey with 1.8 seconds to go brought the Wolf Pack to within one but they were unable to get the ball back before time ran out.
Of course, Williams knows what it's like to lose a close one in NCAA Tournament play.
"It's different," Williams said. "I got to watch this as a fan and I've never seen anything like it since I've been alive. It was great what Nevada did. I was heartbroken it ended that way."
UConn placed five players -- Williams, Samuelson, Kia Nurse, Napheesa Collier and Azura Stevens -- on the WBCA Region 3 team making them eligible for the 10-player WBCA All-America team. Joining them on the Region 3 team were South Florida's Maria Jespersen and Kitija Laksa, Baylor's Kalani Brown, Lauren Cox, and Kristy Wallace, Texas' Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty, and Oklahoma State's Loryn Goodwin ... Auriemma celebrated his 64th birthday on Friday.