December 19 was a beautiful fall day in Columbia, South Carolina, sunny with blue skies and a high temperature of close to 70 degrees. In the morning I bought my game ticket at Colonial Life Arena, “Home of Gamecock Basketball”. The arena is celebrating its 10th anniversary. It is located just off the university campus. The entry lobby features a giant banner with Dawn Staley’s picture.
I then strolled the USC campus (no, not that one), including The Horseshoe which is its historic heart, somewhat reminiscent of the University of Virginia. The institution was created in 1801, but first opened in 1805 with one building that sufficed for everything--student rooms, classrooms and administrative offices. Student enrollment on the main campus today is about 31,000. There are 7 satellite campuses throughout the Palmetto State.
The university museum currently has a special exhibition about USC sports. I learned that the Gamecock mascot is called Cocky and assumed his current appearance in 1982. Cocky was preceded by a 7-foot tall rooster called Big Spur who apparently has retired. Cocky is about 6-feet tall.
Central Columbia is a pleasant place, especially on a nice day. It has historical markers in almost every block telling for whom streets were named, etc. General Sumter was a Revolutionary War hero, for whom the Fort in Charleston harbor was named, along with a street in Columbia. He was called the Fighting Gamecock for his military prowess. USC sports teams began to use the Gamecock nickname in 1902.
There was a men’s game in the arena starting at 5 pm against Appalachian State. Those holding tickets for the women’s game at 7 pm were allowed to enter during halftime of the men’s game. Three sections of the arena are reserved for women’s season ticket holders, all other seats are general admission. With my early entry during the men’s game I was able to get a seat as close to the Stanford bench as a general admission permits.
The men’s game was close which caused it to run late, finishing at 7:05 pm. South Carolina won 74-69. The women’s game started at 7:40 pm. It seemed as if most of the crowd for the men’s game stayed for the women’s game, making this the highest attendance game of the season for both teams. It’s hard to estimate crowd size in an unfamiliar arena, but I thought it could have easily been 7,000 to 8,000. The crowd was in for a treat—a thrilling game with ample opportunity to cheer for the home team. Stanford had a very small representation, I didn’t see any other fans that weren’t family members and the family group was smaller than usual for a road game—maybe 25 in all.
Before the game I noted that Taylor appeared recovered from her ankle injury and everyone else also looked fine. Alex made this trip, but Aly did not. I was glad to see Stanford in the black uniforms, but this did not intimidate the Gamecocks in the least.
What a game it was! South Carolina was well prepared and played inspired from start to finish while also staying calm and collected. The Gamecock defense was excellent and didn’t allow 3-point opportunities. The team’s season stats suggested great effectiveness in stealing and this was amply demonstrated, especially in the first half. Many of the steals were team efforts with someone deflecting the ball to a teammate. The team stats suggested poor SC free throw shooting, but this was not the case, again especially in the first half, although there were some welcome misses from the line down the stretch.
Tara used 9 players in the first half. Stanford was fortunate to have a 24-19 lead at halftime. Chiney had 12 points in the first half and Amber had 6. Jos had no points. Tara used fewer players in the second half—I think just seven.
I hoped for some halftime corrections by Tara that would result in Stanford pulling away. If Tara had such corrections, so did Dawn Staley. The result was a closer second half than the first.
The Stanford lead was 3 to 5 points for the first 12 minutes of the second half. From the 6-minute mark to the end it was a one-point game or a tied game with the Gamecocks sometimes ahead. The crowd went wild, on its feet and waving rally towels. The noise was deafening. South Carolina continued to be calm and effective and Stanford could only hold on under intimidating conditions. With four minutes left it was 42-42. With a minute left it was 45-45. Either team could have won.
With 25 seconds left Stanford led 47-46 and had the ball. South Carolina started fouling. Fortunately, the in-bound passes were to Toni and it was she who was fouled. And it was Toni that made clutch free throw after clutch free throw. Gamecock fouls and Toni’s free throws built the lead to 51-46 . A South Carolina three with 1.5 seconds left made it 51-49 — too little and too late. The final score was 53-49. Whew! What a battle! What a thrilling battle!
Stanford did not play its best. For example, Jos still had zero points at game’s end, but she and her teammates played well enough to win. South Carolina just played so well and its defense was even better in the second half. Stanford didn’t look like #1, but it looked like a champion. In the end it won, matching and outlasting the Gamecocks who certainly deserved to be called the Fighting Gamecocks tonight.
This game was worthy of an advanced match-up in the NCAA Tournament. It was the ideal preparation for the Tennessee game on Saturday. Congratulations to Dawn Staley and her team for giving Stanford such a challenge. The South Carolina defense was absolutely magnificent.
Toni apparently injured her neck in the second half and had ice on the back of her neck whenever she was on the bench. Everyone else seemed healthy at the end.
I was very proud of the Stanford team. I was able to tell Chiney she was great and give her a high-five as she left the court. She ended with 21 points. She was vital to the win and she came through again. All of the starters played great, with Amber with 11 points and Toni with 15 points deserving special mention. Bonnie was in for extended periods and played very good defense and made two free throws that mattered.