EVEN THE MOST passionate, devoted, never-give-up-hope Gamecock fans have to admit they didn’t see this coming.
Sure, they were confident Dawn Staley’s women’s basketball team would advance to the Final Four this weekend. But the men’s basketball team, which hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game in 44 years? In the Final Four?
Both basketball teams in the Final Four in the same year? That’s something to dream about while waiting for the spring football game to start.
But twice this week, Gamecock fans cheered, danced and, yes, cried while their teams cut down the nets as NCAA regional champions. Both teams are in the Final Four. Both teams could actually win the national champ… .
It’s still too crazy to believe.
What’s not hard to believe is that USC fans deserve this. Although national championships have been scarce, the fans have been among the most devoted anywhere.
All sports teams and all athletes claim their fans are the best. So does USC. Proving who is right is impossible.
But consider this:
▪ The USC baseball team usually ranks in the top five in attendance nationally
▪ The women’s basketball team led the nation in attendance during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, according to NCAA.org. The 2015-16 average of 14,364 was nearly 4,000 more than second-place Tennessee. NCAA.org hasn’t posted attendance figures for the current season, but we’re confident USC will be No. 1 again.
▪ In 1999, when the football team lost every game, the average attendance at Williams-Brice Stadium was still 78,273, according to sportsbusinessdaily.com.
▪ South Carolina’s fans twice took over Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville earlier this month, first for the SEC women’s tournament and then for the early rounds of the men’s NCAA tournament.
▪ So many Gamecock fans filed into Madison Square Garden Friday night that one New Yorker asked: Is there anyone left in Columbia?
Of course, Gamecock fans aren’t perfect. They can be as fair-weather as any others. Part of their passion when the Gamecocks win can surely be attributed to the school not being a consistent winner in men’s basketball and football. The fans simply aren’t used to it.
But for several years now, Coach Staley has established the women’s team as one of the nation’s best, and fans still show up in droves to cheer loud at Colonial Life Arena.
On Sunday, USC students gleefully jumped into the Five Points and Thomas Cooper Library water fountains after Coach Frank Martin’s men’s team beat Florida. Thousands of fans gathered at Colonial Life Arena late that night to welcome home the team.
What might happen if the Gamecocks win the national champ…?
On Sunday in New York, as the crowd entered Madison Square Garden before the regional final, USC fans started the familiar Game-Cocks cheer. A Florida fan yelled: “Act like you’ve been here before. Oh, wait you haven’t.”
No, they hadn’t. But they are here now, and they deserve to be.
They also deserve to watch their teams each win two more games this weekend.