ALBANY, N.Y. -- History may be made Monday night, but the history between the University of Connecticut and South Carolina women's basketball teams will have nothing to do with whether it happens.
If the top-seeded Huskies can end the No. 2 Gamecocks' one-year reign as national champions in the NCAA tournament Albany Regional final at the Times Union Center, they will advance to their record 19th Final Four overall -- breaking a tie with Tennessee for most appearances -- and record 11th straight.
UConn (35-0) has beaten South Carolina the past four Februarys, including an 83-58 win at sold-out Colonial Life Arena in Columbia on Feb. 1. That was February. This is March, and this will be the first postseason meeting between the schools.
"There are a number of things different from playing a team in February than playing a team in March," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "I hope that we're a different team than we were last month. There's a different energy and focus and a sense of urgency since it is one and done. Everything is like life and death so you play with that focus."
The Huskies advanced to their 13th consecutive regional final with a 72-59 win over No. 5 Duke on Saturday. The Gamecocks (29-6) are in the Elite Eight for the third time in four years following their 79-63 victory over 11th-seeded Buffalo in the first game of the Sweet 16.
Monday night's contest marks the first time since 1997, when UConn faced Tennessee in the Midwest Regional final in Iowa City, Iowa, that the national champions of the previous two seasons will meet in the NCAA tournament.
"You kind of expected to see them again at some point in the tournament," UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson said. "They're the defending national champions and it's going to happen in the Elite Eight. We're going to be ready to go. We knew that it will be a completely different game than when we went down to Columbia earlier in the season. We have to be ready for their best shot.
"What we've done against them the past couple years has been good enough for us, and that helps us mentally going forward. If we do the same things we did against them earlier this season, there's a good chance we'll be successful. But we'll expect them to be different because they'll have to change. We're not going to take them lightly."
The Huskies are 18-5 overall in Elite Eight games, including 5-2 against Southeastern Conference schools. In those two losses -- to Tennessee in 1997 and to LSU in 2007 -- UConn had won the regular season meeting before falling in the postseason.
That history, like the other, means nothing Monday night.
"This is March, and things are different in March," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We proved at their place that we are really, really good. The problem with where we are and where this tournament is, is you have to prove it again. And if South Carolina beats us Monday night, nobody is going to write a headline in a paper, 'South Carolina goes to a Final Four, but don't forget they lost in February at home.' "
The Gamecocks have non-league losses to Notre Dame and UConn. In SEC play, they avenged a 10-point loss to Missouri, then en route to the SEC tournament crown avenged two losses to Tennessee and another to Mississippi State.
They come into Monday's game having won six in a row in the postseason and 11 of 12 following back-to-back losses to UConn and Mississippi State to open February.
"I would love to beat them, not necessarily because they are UConn, but because they are on the path to a national championship," said South Carolina All-American A'ja Wilson, a South Carolina native who chose the Gamecocks over UConn and North Carolina four years ago. "We are in the Elite Eight. Beating them would get me to the Final Four, and that is something I cherish. It could be UConn, it could be Buffalo, it could be anybody in this position. I'm just going to take it all in stride and enjoy it."
UConn has been able to somewhat contain Wilson in its meetings, but the bigger key to the Huskies' success is that few of Wilson teammates have stepped up to give her any help. That will have to change for the Gamecocks to move on.
On Feb. 1, UConn placed four players in double figures -- led by Nurse's 23 -- and used a 29-8 second quarter to take an insurmountable 29-point halftime lead. The Huskies forced 16 turnovers that they turned into 23 points. Wilson did have 14 points, 16 rebounds and six blocked shots, but three other starters combined for just 13 points while Bianca Jackson, who scored 20 points, did almost all her damage after the game was decided.
"UConn makes you pay a lot of different ways," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "If you turn the ball over, they are going to make you pay. If you miss a shot and it comes off the rim, they are going to rebound and push it and make you pay. If you make a basket and you are slow to get back, they will make you pay. So there's a lot of different ways in which they make you pay. I think our players are very aware of the style of play and what UConn does best.
"I think it also helps that we've played them over the past few years, and you can't just play them one game and think you're going to have success. You have to have the experience of playing them in a lot of different ways, at home, away at their place, and then we're playing on a neutral site which is something that we haven't done. Hopefully this is the trick."
The Albany Regional had the highest attendance of any of the Sweet 16 doubleheaders at 10,658, nearly doubling the second best total. More than 8,000 tickets have been sold for Monday night's showdown to what figures to be another pro-UConn crowd.
On Sunday, the Gamecocks embraced the underdog role. The Huskies freely admitted there's more pressure on them.
"Obviously there's pressure both ways," UConn All-American Gabby Williams said. "But for us, if we come up short, it's a disappointing season. I think 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."
But the Huskies knew all that before they signed up to play for a Hall of Fame coach.
"To me, those teams that sit up here and those players that sit up here and go, 'There's no pressure on us, we have nothing to lose,' yeah, you do, you're going to lose the game if you talk like that," Auriemma said. "And most really good coaches and really good players, they don't try to avoid the pressure. They don't pretend it's not there. And it's especially there at Connecticut. It's there the day you sign your letter of intent. It's there the day you show up on campus. It's there every day in practice, and every game you play.
"That's what our kids live with every day, and the interesting part about it is they manage to be great in that environment. It's remarkable, I think. When you come to Connecticut you realize there's nothing that you could do in your four years that hasn't already been done, I mean, unless you go undefeated all four years."
UConn's freshmen haven't lost, while its sophomores and juniors have lost once, and its seniors twice. But with a loss Monday night, their bid for a fifth NCAA title in six years will be over.
The UConn-South Carolina winner will play the champion out of the Spokane (Washington) Regional, either top-seeded Notre Dame or No. 2 Oregon, Friday in a national semifinal game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Louisville and Mississippi State will face off in Friday's other semifinal.