A'ja Wilson reminisces about her last game at Colonial Life Arena
With 33 seconds left in Sunday night's NCAA tournament game between South Carolina and Virginia, A'ja Wilson came off the floor at Colonial Life Arena one last time, as fans chanted her name and gave her a loud and raucous ovation.
After four years and 62 games, almost all of them wins, Wilson's time playing in Columbia, South Carolina, was over. Her final season will continue in Albany, New York, next weekend thanks to the Gamecocks' 66-56 win, and then, maybe, Columbus, Ohio.
But while Wilson said she spent most of Sunday thinking about helping her team survive against a feisty UVA squad that closed to within three points in the fourth quarter, she said that moment leaving the hardwood of CLA late Sunday was a big one.
"That's when it really sank in that, this is my last time here, this is my last time here in this uniform, playing in front of a great crowd like that," Wilson said later. "And I appreciate everything from the workers at Colonial Life to the fans, to my teammates, to the coaches, just thank you so much for a great four years here," Wilson said. "This is my home, and hopefully when I return it's the same energy."
Anticipation around Wilson's final home contest had been building since the team honored her on senior night, the last regular season home game, almost a month ago. But some of that excitement seemed threatened after the NCAA announced that South Carolina and Virginia's second round game would tip at 9 p.m. on Sunday, the latest start time possible.
In response, head coach Dawn Staley urged fans to make a "pajama party" out of the game and send Wilson off right, and 10,037 supporters made it out for the late contest, making their presence felt so much so that both teams had trouble communicating, they said.
"Seeing the crowd really come together, especially with the late start and everything, seeing them all together in their PJs, rallying around us. They were loud, nonstop. We had to refocus because we really couldn't hear things," Wilson said. "So just to bring the state together in such a positive way, and especially with women's basketball, it's just great. I'm loving it right now."
After the final horn sounded Sunday around 11 p.m., Wilson made her way over to the USC band, where she danced, then over to the media table for an interview with ESPN. After that, though, she sprinted across the court to her parents, where they shared a few minutes.
"It's super special," Wilson said of that moment. "They have been with me through thick and thin, of course. They took me places probably where they didn't really want to take me, like AAU trips when I'm not playing in games, so just to repay them in this way, and just to seem them, they're smiling, and having that feeling that they have that glow about them, and to be the reason for that glow is so, so special."