COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There will be 19,000 fans inside Nationwide Arena and many more at home watching Napheesa Collier as she tries to help the University of Connecticut women's basketball team get past Notre Dame Friday night and earn a spot in the 2018 national championship game.
But after struggling in last year's national semifinal loss to Mississippi State, the junior forward will not be out to prove anything to anyone -- except herself.
"I never want to be timid like I was that night ever again," Collier said. "All I could think of was to not make mistakes, but then by doing that I did make mistakes. It was one of the reasons we lost. I think we were all timid and afraid to make mistakes. When that happens, you get beat.
"I learned from that experience, though, so I know it won't happen again. I want to show my teammates that I'm not going to back down and that they can count on me and trust me in the big moments."
It will be the fifth time in eight years and sixth time overall the Huskies (36-0) and Irish (33-3) have met in the Final Four. Notre Dame won semifinal games in 2001, 2011, and 2012, while the Huskies were victorious in the 2013 semifinals and the 2014 and 2015 finals.
UConn has won 38 consecutive games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents dating back to a loss to North Carolina on Jan. 15, 2007. Seven of those wins were over Notre Dame in a streak that has seen it win 184 of 186 games.
The second of the two losses came last March 31 when Mississippi State ended the Huskies' four-year reign as national champion on Morgan William's pull-up jumper at the buzzer in the semifinals in Dallas.
Collier, a consensus first-team All-American as a sophomore, made just 4-of-11 shots -- only the fifth time she missed more than half her shots in 37 games -- after shooting 68 percent coming in. She also missed the first of two free throws that if she had made both would have given the Huskies a one-point lead with 27.7 seconds left in regulation.
Collier took the loss hard, but it was not her or any individual's fault. There's not one player who took the court that night for UConn that doesn't believe she could have done more to help her team win.
"That's something all of us have been good about keeping in our mindset," UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. "You just want to prove it to yourself and to your coaches and teammates because that's all that matters. The outside sources, the outside action, none of that is important to us. That Phee feels like that makes me feel good and makes me feel like she's going to do something really special. She's going to be ready to go. No one expects anything but the best from her."
Crystal Dangerfield wanted to be on the court when the Mississippi State game was being decided, but didn't give coach Geno Auriemma enough of a reason to trust her in a crucial spot. She could only watch as the Huskies turned the ball over on their final possession to set the stage for William's heroics.
The sophomore point guard will start against Notre Dame and is enjoying a postseason that has seen her named to the American Athletic Conference and Albany Regional all-tournament teams.
"I came in and knew I was better than I had played my freshman year," Dangerfield said. "I also knew that if I trusted my coaches and did what they told me I could make this a better team.
"It's a sense of accomplishment to get here. But now that we're here and we have Notre Dame, we have to take care of that."
UConn used a game-closing 22-3 run to defeat Notre Dame 80-71 on Dec. 3 at the XL Center in Hartford. The rally from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit was the Huskies' biggest second-half comeback since they came from 17 down to edge DePaul on March 1, 2008.
Both teams are six-players deep, UConn because its bench -- outside of Azura Stevens -- has been so inconsistent and Notre Dame because of injuries. Four Irish players in the last year suffered season-ending knee injuries including All-American Brianna Turner, who was hurt in a 2017 NCAA second-round game against Purdue and opted to maintain her final year of eligibility. The only player that saw action for Notre Dame in December that won't play Friday night is guard Lili Thompson.
The Irish's other losses were both to Louisville, which will take on Mississippi State in Friday's first semifinal.
"I think resilience is the perfect word to describe what our team is and how we got here," said Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw, who was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year Thursday. "I think the coaches worked pretty hard at it. But I think you have to have a certain amount of mental toughness to get through the season, and some kids, especially this team, are tougher than normal. People talk a lot about this generation and they're different. This is a team of maybe throwback type of players because they all are the kind of kids that would run through the wall for each other and for us."
Four starters -- led by All-American junior guard Arike Ogunbowale -- average in double figures. Ogunbowale (25.0), junior center Jessica Shepard (20.0), and junior guard Marina Mabrey (19.5) combined for 64.5 points per game as the Irish captured the Spokane (Washington) Regional title.
But the determining factor Friday night, Ogunbowale claimed, won't be scoring.
"Defense, who makes more stops," she said.
UConn has five players, led by Samuelson and Collier, averaging in double figures while Dangerfield is coming off a 21-point performance against South Carolina Monday night. The Huskies are No. 1 nationally in scoring offense (89.4) and field-goal percentage (53.4) while Notre Dame ranks third in both categories.
In Kia Nurse, UConn has the 2018 national Defensive Player of the Year. All-American Gabby Williams won that award a year ago and needs three rebounds to become the seventh UConn player with 1,000 in her career.
The Huskies are 11-7 in national semifinal games while the Irish are 5-2. The only time they lost consecutive Final Four semifinal games was the back-to-back losses to Notre Dame in 2011 and 2012.
UConn has said over the last six months that it's different. Now is the time to show it.
"The advantage is that this isn't the first time we've had to do it," said Williams, who sat out the second half of the Dec. 3 game with a migraine headache. "We know how to handle it. We know how to compartmentalize. When it's time to have fun, we know how to have fun. When it's time to relax, we relax. When it's time to focus, we're focused.
"I wasn't around for the Big East but I know that they played a lot. You can get familiar with a team like that. That last game was in December and both us and Notre Dame have evolved. It's going to be a great game."
UConn-Notre Dame usually is.