The two best teams in the nation square off Monday (ESPN/WatchESPN, 8 p.m. ET) when top-ranked South Carolina takes on second-ranked Connecticut at Gampel Pavilion. For the undefeated Gamecocks, it's an opportunity to keep their perfect season alive and earn the program's first win against UConn. But the Huskies, who have been nothing short of unstoppable since their loss to Stanford on Nov. 17, have their eyes set to a return to No. 1 and on a third consecutive national title.
History of No. 1 vs. No. 2
Monday marks the 54th 1-2 matchup in women's college basketball history, the second involving South Carolina and the 20th such trip for UConn.
The Gamecocks lost to top-ranked Louisiana Tech 71-58 at home on Jan. 8, 1982. Prior to this season, that was the highest South Carolina had ever been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
UConn is 16-3 overall in 1-versus-2 meetings: 12-2 as the top team, 4-1 as the second-ranked team. UConn has dominated its past three 1-versus-2 matchups, winning each by at least 21 points. The Huskies' latest such win came against Notre Dame in the 2014 national championship game, downing the then-unbeaten Fighting Irish 79-58.
But is history on South Carolina's side? The No. 1 team is 33-20 all time versus No. 2, and the top-ranked team has won 11 of the past 12 meetings. A win against UConn can also spell success come tournament time. The past two teams to beat UConn in a 1-2 matchup went on to win the NCAA title that season. In fact, 33 of the 53 winners in 1-2 showdowns have gone on to win the NCAA title.
In addition to extending its program-best 22-game win streak, South Carolina will look to spoil UConn's 29-game home win streak, the longest active streak in the nation. The Huskies are looking for their 300th win at Gampel Pavilion and enter Monday's game with an all-time record of 299-19 at the venue.
Since losing to Stanford in overtime in November, the Huskies have won 20 straight and are averaging 89.5 points per game with an average margin of victory of more than 42 points per game.
Fitting for a 1-2 showdown, South Carolina and Connecticut have been two of the most dominant teams in the nation this season, ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Unbeaten Princeton is the only other team to rank in the top five in both categories.
Players to watch
As expected, there will be plenty of talent on the floor Monday night, including four players named to the Wooden Midseason Top-20 list: UConn's Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell and A'ja Wilson. The Wooden Award is presented annually to the nation's top player.
Stewart: The reigning consensus national player of the year and two-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player leads the Huskies in scoring and is second in both blocks and rebounds per game. She has scored double figures in all but three of UConn's games this season, especially impressive considering she is averaging just more than 23 minutes per game in conference play.
Mosqueda-Lewis: The senior sharpshooter passed Diana Taurasi earlier this season to become UConn's career leader in 3-point field goals (341). KML is shooting a blistering 51 percent from behind the arc this season, the best in the nation.
Mitchell: The 2014 SEC Player of the Year, Mitchell has led South Carolina in both scoring and 3-point field goal percentage each of the past two seasons. The junior has been the model of consistency, scoring double figures in nine straight games.
Wilson: The No. 1 recruit in the nation according to espnW's HoopGurlz, Wilson has more than lived up to the hype. Wilson is the only freshman named to the Midseason Wooden Watch List and is second on the team in scoring despite making just one start this season. Wilson, along with fellow freshman Bianca Cuevas, is an integral part of a South Carolina bench that has tied or outscored its starters in 12 games this season.
While all eyes will be fixed on the court Monday evening, one of the most intriguing matchups will be that on the sideline, where coaches Geno Auriemma and Dawn Staley square off.
Auriemma, who earned his 900th career win on Feb. 3 and became the fastest coach to reach the milestone in college basketball history, is one of the most accomplished coaches the game has ever seen. In 30 years, he has won nine national championships and posted five undefeated seasons.
But guiding the other bench is Staley, who served as an assistant for Auriemma and Team USA at the 2014 FIBA World Championship. Following eight years at Temple, Staley is in her seventh season with the Gamecocks and was named the 2014 SEC Coach of the Year after guiding South Carolina to its first SEC regular-season title in program history.
While South Carolina is still a relative newcomer on the national stage, Staley is not lacking in experience. A two-time national player of the year at Virginia, Staley led the Cavaliers to three Final Four appearances and is the only player in Division I women's basketball history named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player whose team did not take home the championship. She is also the namesake of the Dawn Staley Award, presented annually to the top guard in the nation.
This season, Staley already has guided the Gamecocks to the first AP No. 1 ranking in program history, joining Baylor's Kim Mulkey as the only women's basketball coaches to both play for and coach the No. 1 team in the nation.
Can South Carolina knock off one of the most storied programs in college basketball history? Staley has done it before. While she is 0-1 versus Auriemma and the Huskies as a coach, Staley won both matchups against UConn as a player.