Discussion: The Gamecocks' Great Weekend

Laimonas Chatkevicius smiles as Michael Carrera's gaze asks Kentucky who will save it from the force that was South Carolina athletics this weekend. - Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Connor Tapp, Jorge de los Gallos and ChickenHoops sit down to discuss one of the best 72-hour periods in the history of the Gamecocks' athletic program.

ChickenHoops: Coming into Thursday afternoon, we had a few things to look forward to in Carolina athletics.  The Lady Gamecocks looked ready to seize their first SEC Championship on Thursday, but a slip-up against Georgia would mean they'd have to go win in Knoxville or else lose the crown, setting up a stressful meeting with the Bulldogs.  Meanwhile, two of our most successful programs - baseball and equestrian - put their top rankings on the line against a pair of Tigers - the riders against Auburn, the baseballers against Clemson.  Meanwhile, after a tough night in Auburn mid-week, everyone expected the worst from the basketball team.

And yet, here we sit on Sunday, and nearly everything went right, with the exception of the Lady Gamecocks' loss in Knoxville on Sunday in a game that didn't particularly matter since we won the SEC Championship on Thursday night.  Our basketball team beat Kentucky and saw our students storm the court, and we swept Clemson via two great comeback wins sandwiching a Saturday pasting.

A great weekend.  So, given all of those results, what did you find the most satisfying?  The most significant?

Connor Tapp: It didn't take me long to decide which result I found most satisfying. The Yardcocks' three-game sweep of Clemson was basically a 27-inning troll job that began with Jordan Montgomery spotting the Tigers six runs in game one and did not relent until Tanner English plated the game-winning runs in the top of the ninth in the series finale.

What's most pleasing about sweeping this series is how little we needed it. Really, it wasn't even that important to me that we came out with a series win. I can't speak with much authority on how much Clemson wanted this, but if the Twitter reactions of prominent Clemson media members (e.g., Quackenbush or whatever the WCCP guy's name is) are any indication, they wanted it badly. I felt like an overstuffed king dropping bread crumbs out of his fat mouth, only to scoop them up just beyond the reach of a peasant who so malnourished that his ribs seem primed to burst through his skin.

CH: That's lovely imagery, Connor.  I think it's typical in the rivalry that the team that has succeeded less in the recent past wants it more because they're tired of hearing about not winning these games.  I found great satisfaction in the wins this weekend, but I'm sure Clemson fans would've found more.

And if you don't believe me, this fine website seems to back up my claims: firejackleggett.blogspot.com.

Jorge De Los Gallos: That site brought me so much joy. The self-parody is so strong with it that I wonder if a South Carolina operative is behind it, but then again, of course it's real.

Speaking of people who blog about teams that don't win much, I won't name names, but a certain GABA writer texted me in the early going of the Kentucky game, something along the lines of, "I wish UK would hurry up and pull away so I can start a movie." I admit, I was kind of feeling EXACTLY THAT. But, alas, we pulled it off in front of a crowd of rowdy fans (some of them ours!) and a small collection of quality recruits who, for now, haven't ruled out signing with South Carolina. While Chicken Hoops was quick to remind us that it'd be premature to equate the upset with turning the proverbial corner (mostly because he hates joy), Saturday was about as visible as our basketball team's been in recent years.

All this is to say I'm a bit on the fence. As far as value to the program is concerned, I can't imagine any sport needed a high profile win quite like basketball. As far as satisfaction, I tend to think embarrassing Clemson is the ultimate trump card.

CH: I had multiple people ask me about that after the game.  It maybe wasn't the best time, but sometimes I think people only watch us beat Kentucky, don't watch us get swept by Auburn and Georgia, and then argue we should be an NCAA tournament team next season.  We shouldn't be, and probably won't be, and if you want a fan base with appropriately calibrated expectations, it's sometimes worth reminding people of that reality.

In that vein, that kept the basketball game for being the most significant win of the weekend.  But most satisfying?  Absolutely.  We know our women's basketball, equestrian, and baseball team have built programs and are at the top of their fields.  We know that the men's basketball program is trying to get there, so seeing them take a measurable step toward that success is satisfying.

As for significance?  Give me the women's basketball win over Georgia.  Again, we know baseball can beat Clemson (and damn near anyone), and just like equestrian, they have recent national titles we can bask in.  But the women's team has never hoisted the SEC trophy, and to do so in front of over 10,000 happy Gamecocks - that marks a major point for that program.  With the already outstanding class signed for next season - hopefully to be bolstered by A'ja Wilson - there are more of these I think to come, but the first time you win a championship always moves you into a different class than where you once were.  Ask our football team - as good as the last three years have been, there's a certain level of respect nationally I don't think we've been afforded, and I think it's because we've not won the East in any of the last three years, and still have never won the SEC.

JDLG: Yeah, you never know how things will shake out, but it certainly feels like our ladies have arrived. We may want to go ahead and commission a Dawn Staley statue.

I suppose the major impediment that keeps men's hoops from feeling more satisfying to me than the baseball sweep is how it was perceived nationally. I'm thrilled such an enormous audience saw what Brenton Williams and Sindarius Thornwell were capable of, but the consensus reaction wasn't so much "South Carolina beat Kentucky!" as it was "South Carolina beat Kentucky?" Of course, that shouldn't and doesn't matter to our fans and our program, who are right to process it as a major upset and a step in the right direction. But despite the invigorating sense of optimism such a thing breeds, my sense of satisfaction is tempered a bit by the fact that we're still not a very good basketball team. For my money, it just doesn't get much better than watching a team functioning at the highest level, validating its claim to powerhouse status by dramatically crushing the spirits of its archrival. Yes, it's an embarrassment of riches, but I can't help but revel it in it like Scrooge McDuck backstroking through a pool of coins.

CT: I understand the argument for the women's basketball team beating Georgia. Winning the SEC Championship is a major accomplishment, and I don't want to diminish that in any way. But my main problem with saying that was the most significant win from last week is that it's not terribly significant as a stand-alone achievement. It's granted significance by its placement at the tail end of an incredibly successful season. We knew the women could beat Georgia because they've beaten a lot of good teams.  We had no idea that Frank Martin's Gamecocks could take on and beat a top 25 basketball team.  The women's program spent all year doing that.  For the first time, on Saturday, so did the men's.

CH: That it did, and it'll be interesting to see if that night was aberrational or something they can build on, as they get the chance very quickly to once again measure themselves against elite competition as the Florida Gators come to town on Brenton Williams' senior night.

The best part is that, with three great programs already at the school playing right now, and with the improvement of the men's program in year two of the Frank Martin era, you almost get the sense that, while this weekend is certainly worth celebrating, it might not be the last time the athletic department puts together this good a weekend.  And that - maybe even more so than the weekend itself - is worth applauding.

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