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Sisters Karlie and Katie Lou Samuelson reunited at Women's Final Four

It was 5 a.m. at the Indianapolis International Airport the morning after the NCAA title game, and the terminal was full of tired, ragged-looking people who might have slept a couple of precious hours after the high of the national championship game.

The Samuelson family sat together at its gate, parents Jon and Karen, and daughters Bonnie and Karlie. The latter, a Stanford forward whose junior season had ended days earlier with a loss in the regional final, joined her family at the Final Four to cheer on a third sister, Katie Lou, a freshman at Connecticut.

Katie Lou, the youngest of the three Samuelson sisters known throughout Southern California for their hereditary basketball talent, chose a different path than her two older siblings. Bonnie and Karlie ended up at Stanford, carving out careers as dead-eye perimeter shooters and team leaders.

But Katie Lou went across the country to play at UConn for Geno Auriemma. The most hotly recruited of the three players -- considered the No. 1 recruit in the nation two years ago -- Katie Lou said no to Stanford and passed on the possibility of playing college basketball alongside her sisters.

This week in Dallas, the Samuelson sisters will be together after all. And apart. Karlie and Stanford advanced to the Final Four, as did Katie Lou and top-ranked UConn. They will support and cheer for each other until the moment they might -- should the Cardinal and Huskies both win Friday's semifinal games (beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2/WatchESPN) -- take the court against one another in the NCAA title game.

"I never, never thought about this happening," said Jon Samuelson, the most well-publicized frequent flyer in the country after the regionals, when he motored between Lexington, Kentucky, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, on alternate days to see each of his daughters play for a spot in the Final Four. "I hoped at one point they might play in the regular season. And when the brackets came out, this became a possibility. But it's amazing they have both ended up there. And I'm particularly happy for Karlie, because it's her senior year."

Karlie's Cardinal got there in somewhat unexpected fashion, No. 2 seed Stanford upsetting top-seeded Notre Dame in the Elite Eight with a 16-point second-half comeback. UConn, with sophomore Katie Lou in a starring role, has done what anticipated, the Huskies moving on with relative ease to Dallas to take their shot at a fifth straight national championship. UConn has won 111 consecutive games.

Supporting her sister has always been second nature, but Karlie admitted that going to Indianapolis last year was difficult.

"I almost didn't want to go, but at the same time, I really wanted to go, too," Karlie said. "It was pretty painful after the Washington game [in the Elite Eight], one of the most painful losses of my career. To go and watch, when you are one game away, was tough.

"But on the other hand, Lou was playing and I was happy to see her experience that. I didn't really have to be talked into it. When my mom asked, 'Would you want to go?', I said, 'Of course'. I think I was always going to go."

Karlie, oldest sister Bonnie, and their parents made the trip. Bonnie and Karlie hung out, had meals -- they even went to an escape room -- and just spent time together.

"I know it was hard for her. Her season just ended," said Bonnie, who played for Stanford and made her own Final Four appearance -- with teammate Karlie beside her -- in 2014. "But it ended up really good."

For Katie Lou, it was almost as mixed a bag. She suffered a broken bone in her foot on the first offensive play of the semifinal against Oregon State and watched from the bench while the Huskies won their fourth consecutive championship.

This past Sunday, Katie Lou spent the afternoon in the team's locker room in Bridgeport, glued to the Stanford-Notre Dame game on a laptop. While Jon sat in the stands in Lexington, Bonnie and her mother, Karen, watched on TV from Southern California.

When the buzzer sounded, Karlie said she couldn't help but burst into tears.

"It was like a release," Karlie said. "I was just so happy to get to play another game with my team. And I thought about going to the Final Four with Lou."

Bonnie, meanwhile, was home booking flights and moving her labs in optometry school to facilitate a hasty departure to Dallas.

"I didn't even get to text anybody for like two hours, because I was busy getting all my stuff re-arranged so I can go," said Bonnie, who was a career 40 percent shooter from 3-point range, hitting 237 treys at Stanford. "It's probably not great timing for me in terms of school, but there's no way I'm missing this."

Karlie said later that a reporter showed her photos of Katie Lou watching her game in the locker room. Karlie has returned the favor plenty this season.

"I've watched all of her games," Karlie said. "We talked about this scenario before the season started, 'Wouldn't it be great if we both went?'"

For as much as Katie Lou chose her own path, Karlie -- for the first time in organized basketball -- has spent the last two years without one of her sisters on her team. Bonnie graduated from Stanford in 2015.

"I was so grateful to have her with me for my first two years," Karlie said. "And I've missed her for sure. But these two years have been great. I've been able to be a leader, a captain. I've grown as a player. I've gotten a lot closer to my teammates."

Jon Samuelson said he has seen his middle daughter blossom in these last two years. He thinks Karlie has the makings of a great coach.

"A lot of people have said that," Jon said. "Karlie has so much common sense about everything. Whenever anyone in our family has a problem, we talk to Karlie because she gives such good advice."

No matter what happens in Dallas, the Samuelsons will celebrate.

"This is just so exciting," Bonnie said. "If they both get to the championship game, I don't know how it will feel."

Jon Samuelson knows. He said he will be a mess.

"I don't know how to cheer for one and not the other," he said.

It's a Samuelson trait, passed along from father to daughters.