AUSTIN, Texas -- For almost two decades, Martin Luther King Jr. Day meant national television and a nationally-ranked opponent for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
But while the Huskies have played numerous big games on the third Monday of January, for them there's nothing bigger than remembering whom the holiday honors.
"It's always a special day, especially for everything Dr. King did for African-Americans," UConn All-American Napheesa Collier said. "It's hard for me to explain, but I know some of the things he did as a Civil Rights leader and they were amazing. In part because of what he did, I can play basketball and I can go to school where I want."
Playing on the holiday was a highlight of UConn's schedule from 1995 through 2013. Monday night's showdown against No. 7 Texas at the Frank Erwin Center ends a drought that started when the top-ranked Huskies joined the American Athletic Conference.
They're glad to be showcasing their talents on this day.
"It's a day that honors one of the great leaders and great people in our country's history," UConn forward Azura Stevens said. "It's not something you think about right before the game. But it is something during the day you consider and reflect and think about and what he did for us and our country when he was alive."
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma had just turned 14 years old.
"The meaning for me has always been you're playing for a memory, you're playing for the symbol of a cause that still resonates today and will resonate forever," Auriemma said. "It's important that our players understand it and appreciate it.
"It's always good at this time to remind them of what happened before they were born, or in some instances what happened before their parents were born. I was a kid then, but I remember experiencing his victories and experiencing his funeral. I can explain it to them a little differently than someone else can."
He recalled King's "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963. Collier has not watched the whole speech but has seen a good portion of it on tape as she's grown up.
"I'll watch and I think of how brave he must have been to put himself out there in order to change the world and make the world a better place," Collier said.
UConn's first nationally televised game on the King holiday was in 1995 when it defeated Tennessee to earn the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll for the first time.
The Huskies' record over the 19 consecutive seasons they played on the holiday 15-4 with six consecutive wins. Their last game was a 79-49 victory over Duke at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 21, 2013. While the Tennessee is the most memorable game, Auriemma spoke of a 1999 holiday game at Louisiana Tech that UConn lost 90-76 and included three referees the Hall of Fame coach had never heard of.
"It was our first time ever down there and we went there with a young team," Auriemma said. "We were able to have an experience down there for those kids that I think carried over for years. We played them the next year and the difference in our team was ridiculous."
UConn routed the Lady Techsters 90-63 at Gampel Pavilion en route to the 2000 national championship.
The Huskies have played Texas on the holiday once, a 73-57 win in Hartford on Jan. 17, 2005. The return trip here a year later is the only game of the seven-game series between the schools (UConn leads 7-0) to be played on campus.
The Longhorns (14-2) have advised their fans to get to the Erwin Center early as a record crowd is expected.
"I think it is going to be a crazy, crazy, crazy environment," Auriemma said. "In the last four, five years it seemed we played them almost every year but it was in the NCAA tournament or in some kind of event. We have always managed to play them on neutral courts. On campus this is going to be crazy.
"I think the fact that they haven't beaten us is going to be a real issue. It is going to be hard for us, because I think they are going to be off the charts crazy about beating us, and I don't know that there is a lot of love lost between us and them."
UConn (15-0) arrived in Texas on Friday and smashed Houston 95-35 on Saturday before traveling to take on the a Longhorns club that has 10 McDonald's All-Americans on it.
"They are very talented," Auriemma said. "They may have as talented a roster as there is in the country or at least as athletic a roster as there is in the country for sure. It's why they're on the schedule. We have our hands full. It's going to be a tough game."
Texas has a talented backcourt led by reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Brooke McCarty. Ariel Atkins and Lashann Higgs are talented on the wings and the Longhorns can throw a number of tall players at opponents including Jatarie White and Joyner Holmes.
The Huskies defeated the Longhorns 72-54 at Mohegan Sun Arena a season ago.
"What I like about playing them is that if you catch them in the tournament you have seen them before and you have some familiarity with how they play," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "And then just the game for the fans. Playing them on Big Monday on Martin Luther King Day and to bring that high quality of an opponent into your arena is always a positive for your fans.
"You have to be able to score. That's what hurt us last year was that we got bogged down offensively and couldn't shoot as well as we needed to shoot. You have to match their point production."
A number of the players from the teams are familiar with each other through their experiences with USA Basketball, the latest being UConn's Crystal Dangerfield and Megan Walker playing with Texas' Holmes and Alecia Sutton on the 2017 national team that won a silver medal at the FIBA U-19 World Cup.
The Huskies' performance at Houston on Saturday allowed Auriemma to limit his top players' minutes somewhat so they should be fresh if Monday night's contest goes down to the wire.
"Texas is going to be a real battle overall," Stevens said. "I'm really confident in our team based on what we have accomplished so far that we will be able to handle ourselves fine. They're a really great team, one of the top teams in the country. It will be a good test for us to focus and execute."