All of the great teams have “The Moment.” That one tiny piece of a season that means more than the walk-off home run or Hail Mary pass or buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
This South Carolina run had the players thinking of theirs, when they sat in their locker room on March 12.
“We were pretty confident, but you never know with March Madness,” point guard P.J. Dozier said. “We were kind of pretty confident last year.”
It seemed to be definite they were in the NCAA Tournament, because their numbers didn’t lie. But nobody felt 100 percent sure that was the case because of how 2015-16 ended. Nobody was going to act nonchalant, because until it was on the TV for the world to see, they couldn’t be sure.
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There it was, though, “South Carolina” in big letters with a garnet banner behind it, and the Gamecocks heaved a sigh of relief that flattened trees at the Governor’s Mansion. They were in even though they struggled to win over their final month. That meant the final month and any other problems, issues or concerns were gone.
Think Dave Roberts stealing that base in the 2004 ALCS. Think Eric Wright hooking one finger in the back of Drew Pearson’s collar to make a game-saving tackle, after Montana and Clark hooked up in 1981. Think Mike Holmes having the presence of mind to immediately look down court after snaring a missed free throw, spying Zam Fredrick breaking free as he rifled a pass to beat Florida in 2009.
USC heard its name called and knew it was a brand-new start, a brand-new season. One in which it has yet to lose.
“That definitely took a lot of pressure off of us,” Dozier said. “We knew we didn’t have anything to lose coming into this tournament.”
The Gamecocks have said they haven’t faced any pressure, especially after shedding the aged simian on their back against Marquette, because nobody expected them to be here anyway. Why would they?
Now that the most delicious term in the game is right there to be tasted? “Final Four?”
No pressure. Really. The most they faced all year were those last ticks before Selection Sunday called their name.
“I’m just happy that we didn’t peak at the wrong time,” Duane Notice said. “I feel we’re still getting better as a team. We found new life coming into the tournament, and the basketball gods have a funny way of working.”
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