STOCKTON, Calif. -- What does Leticia Romero remember most vividly about Florida State's 2015 game against South Carolina? The pain.
"I remember that it was, like, a fight," the Seminoles senior point guard said. "I remember finishing the game, and my whole body was hurting."
That loss wasn't limited to physical pain. Losing an 80-74 game on the precipice of the Final Four sticks in the body and the mind. But on the other side, South Carolina experienced the elation of a breakthrough game, with the Gamecocks making their first trip to the national semifinals.
The same high stakes are on the line Monday night in Stockton, when two athletic, physical teams from the east match up on the West Coast for a trip to Texas and a shot at the NCAA title.
"I know that Florida State is going to remember that game," South Carolina State coach Dawn Staley said.
Gamecocks center A'ja Wilson has her own memories of the game two years ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, a game that included five ties and seven lead changes in the final 10 minutes. Her recollection was the intense desire to get her team to the Final Four. Wilson had 10 points in that game.
"I think we really wanted it, and we went out and fought for it," Wilson said. "When you are playing for something such as the Final Four, it comes down to heart and want."
Florida State demonstrated its heart Saturday in the Sweet 16. The Seminoles came back from a 17-point first-quarter deficit against Oregon State by ramping up the defensive pressure, forcing turnovers -- an effort led by senior Ivey Slaughter, who finished with a school-record nine steals -- and physically dominating the Beavers inside to find scoring opportunities. They did not hit a 3-point shot against Oregon State, despite hitting 178 3-pointers this season.
The defensive intensity did not go unnoticed by South Carolina players.
"They really turned the defense up ... their whole energy," said junior Kaela Davis, who led South Carolina's rout of Quinnipiac on Saturday with 28 points. "I think they had a completely different energy, a completely different focus in the second half. I don't think we need to be prepared for a half. I think that's something we need to prepare for 40 minutes."
South Carolina has played this tournament without veteran post Alaina Coates, who is out with an ankle injury. Although the Gamecocks have found an offensive rhythm with a more guard-oriented scheme, against the Seminoles, Coates' absence might be more obvious.
"With Alaina out, I think it just leaves a big void," Staley said. "Like driving lanes were there for us. It gives A'ja Wilson an opportunity to work the paint a little bit more and maybe feel like it's not so clogged up. For the guards, like a Kaela Davis, she's getting to the basket a little bit more. Allisha Gray can play more downhill. Bianca Cuevas thrives off of the space that's left with the void of not having Alaina Coates in there. But from a rebounding and defensive standpoint, we feel her presence missed."
If South Carolina sees an opportunity to reach the Final Four and solidify its status as one of the nation's elite programs, Florida State sees a chance for redemption after coming oh-so-close two years ago.
"This matchup, to me, it's going to help us redeem ourselves," said Florida State's Shakayla Thomas, the ACC player of the year. "This is what I've personally been looking forward to for the longest [time], so I'm excited."
Senior Brittany Brown, who along with backcourt mate Romero scored 13 in the game two years ago, said the Seminoles' first trip to the Final Four is the legacy she and her fellow seniors want to leave for the program.
"We're big on honor and legacy and honoring those that came before us," Brown said. "They set this path for us, and we basically just kind of carried it on. I think it will be really special for our seniors, but it's just this group -- period.
"All these girls, if we make it to the Final Four, that will be something that Florida State has never done in program history, so it will be something that we always remember as a group."