Friday night, the South Carolina women’s basketball team got to welcome the Gamecocks men to the club.
The South Carolina women have been winning NCAA Tournament games for a while now. They’ve won 11 in the past five years, made the second weekend four times, plus had an Elite Eight run in the early 2000s and a string of trips in the late 1980s and early 90s. USC’s men just got their first NCAA win since 1973.
It led Gamecocks women’s star A’ja Wilson, whose team faces Arizona State in the second round Sunday, to issue a slightly bold proclamation.
“I think we’re a basketball school right now,” Wilson said. “So football, you’re just going to have to catch up with us.”
Women’s coach Dawn Staley arrived in Columbia four years before Frank Martin.
She understands the challenge the men’s program took on and overcame.
“It’s one that you could see building,” Staley said. “And when you’re in the game and when you’re in the sport and you coach it and you’ve been in that situation before, you know that it’s going to happen one day.”
She also lamented the fact the men’s and women’s games were not spaced out Sunday, with a 7 p.m. start in Columbia and 8:40 in Greenville.
The Gamecocks players called their meeting last season with Arizona State one of the most physical they’ve had. That surprised Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne.
Because her team got the worst of that encounter.
“I think it was end of the first quarter, Wilson got Quinn (Dornstauder) with an elbow,” Turner Thorne said. “She cut her chin open, no foul, so she had to go out, and she was probably out till halftime, and she had, I think, about 10 stitches.”
That was before forward Kelsey Moos caught a knee to the head chasing a loose ball, missing 2-3 weeks, and forward Sophie Brunner dislocated an ankle late, missing 5-6 weeks.
That game ended when Wilson was fouled by ASU’s 5-foot-7 point guard with less than a second left and nailed both free-throws for a 60-58 win.
Meet so soon?
This was a postseason matchup that could have been in play either of the past two seasons. The Sun Devils were a No. 3 seed in USC’s region in 2015, but lost by a point with a chance to meet the Gamecocks. Last year, they were the top two seeds in the Sioux Falls Regional, in line to meet in the Elite Eight before both teams were upset early.
Arizona State came through injuries this season to win 19 games before the tournament against a top-20 schedule and finish fifth in the Pac-12. So the Sun Devils didn’t expect to be meeting USC this quickly.
“We were very surprised to be sent here as an eight seed,” Turner Thorne said. “It feels like a Sweet 16 game. It feels like a regional round game, except that we’re on their home floor.”