STORRS, Conn. -- Whether it's the Game of the Century remains to be seen.
But it's a Game for a Century for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
The excitement has been building for a month since the Huskies broke their own NCAA record for longest winning streak. And while a circus atmosphere swirls around Gampel Pavilion, let sophomore forward Napheesa Collier put their approach to Monday night in the simplest of terms.
"We're not focusing on 100. We're focusing on South Carolina as a team," she said.
A sellout crowd will make its way to UConn's on-campus home Monday night as No. 1 UConn goes for its 100th consecutive win when it hosts sixth-ranked South Carolina in a 9 p.m. tip. The Huskies' record-breaking victory at SMU on Jan. 14 may have been under the radar, the hype for Monday night has been somewhat overwhelming.
It's up to the players to take it all in stride.
"I don't really think there is such a thing as too big a moment here, and if there is we don't think like that," UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson said. "The biggest thing our coaches teach us is that this program is special for a reason. We work harder than everyone else. We don't get caught up in certain things. We want to keep that going. We don't ever want to slack or do something where the coaches will think we aren't doing something to uphold what they have worked so hard to create. You want to be a part of the greatness that has been here before, and you want to make sure that you can match it or even out-do it sometimes. It really does motivate you to a whole different level."
As all UConn fans know, the Huskies' last loss was in overtime at Stanford on Nov. 17, 2014, and that broke a 47-game winning streak. Two of the wins in the 99-game run have come against South Carolina. UConn routed the then No. 1 Gamecocks 87-62 here two years ago and the Huskies have not relinquished the top of the polls since. Last year, UConn won in Columbia 66-54 in a game that was not as close as the final score might indicate.
But with post players A'ja Wilson and Alaina Coates a year older and now being complemented by transfer guards Kaela Davis and Alliyah Gray, South Carolina (21-2) may be better equipped to handle what UConn (24-0) will throw at it than in the past.
"Losing some of the perimeter players they lost last year obviously changes them," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You can't replace the kind of experience that they lost or maybe Tiffany Mitchell's talent. But adding the players that they added changes them a little bit because they can be a little more offensive minded from more spots than they were last year.
"Their two big guys have had another year to play together and they are a problem for everybody that they play. You can say, 'You can do this against them or you can do that against them.' But the bottom line is those two are really, really hard to play against. Not very many teams in the country have two players like that that you have to deal with. I wasn't worried about it last year with Stewie (Breanna Stewart) and (Morgan) Tuck. I'm worried about it now."
UConn, though, has beaten teams with more size, notably Baylor and Texas. While Collier and Gabby Williams will give up height, they won't give up anything in speed, quickness, and athleticism. Their key will be to stay out of foul trouble. But even if they do, Natalie Butler may be counted on for meaningful minutes off the bench.
The challenge for UConn's guards will likely be at the 3-point line. Samuelson and Kia Nurse have been reliable in tough spots all season. Can Saniya Chong continue to do the things she's done for the last month? Maybe Crystal Dangerfield can turn back the clock to Nov. 17 and play like the difference maker she was against Baylor.
"South Carolina brings a lot of inside presence with Wilson and Coates, and they do a lot of different things for them," Nurse said. "Their guard play has also been very good this year. Davis and Gray have definitely made a difference for them. They are a different style of team that is fun to play against."
UConn also will put a 60-game home winning streak on the line and the Huskies have shown an affinity to playing in crazy environments.
"I'm looking forward to having a great game with a great atmosphere," Samuelson said. "Coach was saying he knows he won't have to worry about us being ready to go or being excited for this game. But it's about how we prepare and how we mentally focus and what we want to show to the country, everyone who is supporting us and is against us, that we're Connecticut basketball and we're going to keep playing as hard as we can no matter who we play every single game."
UConn has cruised through the American Athletic Conference portion of its schedule since New Year's Day. After facing the Gamecocks, it will close the regular season with four more league games before heading to the AAC tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Huskies own wins over nationally-ranked Florida State, Baylor, DePaul, Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Maryland from November and December. Auriemma has always liked having a tough non-league game on his schedule in February and here it is.
"There are some things about our team right now that I don't like as much as I did like when we played Texas, Notre Dame and Maryland," Auriemma said. "As the season goes on and you get to where we are now in the middle of February, I think cracks start to show. I don't know if anybody else can see them, but I can see them. We're not where I want us to be at this point in the season.
"So a game like this comes at a perfect time for us. Maybe it's exactly the game we need at exactly the right time. A team that we know if we don't play our A game, we could lose. It's good that we have that kind of game right around now."
Nothing would be better if the Game of a Century became the Game of the Century.