UConn and South Carolina are set to square off in the Elite Eight of the Albany Regional with the winner taking a spot in Columbus for the Final Four. Mississippi State and Louisville have already punched their ticket, while Oregon and Notre Dame fight for the final spot after the Huskies and Gamecocks play.
A Rare Occurence
When UConn and South Carolina step on the court Monday night in the Elite Eight, the two teams will accomplish something that women’s college basketball has rarely seen. It will be a NCAA Tournament battle between the last two national champions, something that has happened just four times in the history of the tournament, according to Hearst CT Media’s Jim Fuller.
The last time it happened? UConn was also involved, but they were on the losing side of a 91-81 Tennessee victory in 1997.
Throw Out the Past
Luckily for the Huskies, the have history on their side for tonight’s match up as they are a perfect 6-0 against the Gamecocks and not a single game has been within single-digits.
However, UConn knows that the previous meetings have no bearing on what will happen on Monday night in Albany.
“I don’t think any previous games really matter to us right now. We’re just looking ahead to the game tomorrow and what we have to do,” senior Gabby Williams said. “I don’t think we are going to look at is as, ‘Oh, we beat them before so of course we are going to beat them again.’ That’s not how it is at all.”
The two teams met in February in a game where UConn blew the doors off South Carolina in Columbia, 83-58. But again, the Huskies are only focusing on the game at hand.
“One thing that was brought up yesterday is we like to think that we are not the same team that played in February, just as any team that plays in this tournament is not the same team that was playing in February,” senior Kia Nurse said. “Every game that we go into, every practice that we go into, every session, it’s a matter of what do we have to do for the game in front of us.”
Final Four or Bust
While the Gamecocks may be the defending national champions, UConn is up against the expectations built from reaching the Final Four an NCAA-record 10-straight times.
“There’s pressure both ways but for us, if we come short of it, it’s a disappointing season,” Williams said. “That just goes with the 30 years of history that this program has that we’ve built up; that we’ve set such high expectations every single year.”
Geno Auriemma, the Huskies’ head coach, knows that winning is the only option.
“Two years without winning a national championship, I’ll probably have to move my house. Too many people know where I live and we’ll be like 70-2 and somebody will be out to get me. I’ll have to change where I go to the store, all that stuff,” Auriemma said.
“First of all, if we don’t win tomorrow night, there’s no going back to Connecticut. The expectation level is so high. But we created it. I’m far from complaining. I’d rather have that than some of the scenarios I described earlier where nobody cares.”
Staley Makes a Cryptic Prediction
When asked on Sunday how to beat UConn, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley had a pretty simple answer.
“You’ve got to play the game,” she said.
However, Staley quickly pivoted to a story from after the Huskies’ win over Duke in the Sweet Sixteen and said the following:
“I was walking out after scouting UConn [Sunday] and I guess a UConn fan, he started yelling at me like ‘You’re next Monday’ and giving me a thumbs up. I actually thought it was a Gamcock fan and I turned around and almost gave him thumbs up. So I don’t know why this came to me, but this came to me.
“I said, ‘On Monday, you’re going to believe there’s a God,’ and that’s what we’re going with.”
Looks like UConn fans will just have to figure out what that means when the final buzzer sounds on Monday night. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN.