Let's celebrate the first week of March Madness with a basketball question! What's one of your favorite college basketball memories? This can be a great moment in the sport's history, a great moment for the Gamecocks, or something that was just cool for you personally.
Thank you for an easy one.
I love college basketball, but I particularly love Carolina basketball, and I love watching their games in person. And for a while there, this was a really fun thing to do.
In some ways this is a hard choice, because there were some really great moments in our basketball history, such as Devan Downey's game against Kentucky.
There were also some really great ones when I attended games regularly, such as Antonio Grant making a last-second shot to beat the Gators during the magical 1998 run, or Travis Kraft's last-second 3 to beat the Gators to open the 2001 SEC season, or the win at Rupp to clinch their first SEC championship in 1997.
And while all those were outstanding, the best for me was the one I was at, where an opposing fan spent a ton of time trash-talking me, and where we made a mighty comeback that ended just so:
Growing up we would watch March Madness and it was a big deal in our house. I remember getting the newspaper and cutting out the brackets. We would put it on the fridge to keep track of all the games. The late night games, we would find out the next day and then update our brackets on the fridge.
Then later on, after college, my roommates and I would watch March Madness at a sports bar and it took on a whole new intensity. Copying the brackets from the newspapers and putting together office pools was always fun too.
But there is one game that I will never forget. I can't say it was great. It was far from great but it definitely was a memorable March Madness. It was 1997. College of Charleston was playing Arizona. It was a very close game and Arizona went on to win the game and later the NCAA Championship. I was at a friend's wedding. We left the reception to catch the last half of the game. When we got back to the reception, we found out a relative of the bride had passed away at the wedding reception.
That same year (1997), the Gamecocks got beat by Coppin State #15 seed. Where the heck was Coppin State and how did they beat the Gamecocks a #2 seed!!
I would be lying if I said I was anything even approaching a basketball fan. I went to a grand total of three basketball games when I was at Carolina, and I only remember the first one, which just happened to be the Zam Frederick buzzer beater against Florida in 2009. To be completely honest, I'm pretty sure the only reason I even went was because it was the first night of the (ugly) Garnet Army t-shirts, and who turns down free stuff in college?
Anyway, I remember Florida leading late, and I remember my friends and I being sad, and then I remember the CLA erupting when Frederick took the pass from Mike Holmes and made the layup to give the Gamecocks a 1-point win and end the Gators' 10-game winning streak. Even though the game didn't do anything to increase my basketball fandom, it was a pretty cool experience for my first game ever.
I dated a Duke fan for a very long time. I've been very close friends with a UNC fan for a long time. In order to fully appreciate this story, you must know that Duke fan is very non-confrontational and mild mannered while UNC fan is best described as a lovable asshole.
A few years ago, we were all watching the Duke/UNC game on UNC fan's birthday. UNC fan friend was quite drunk, and being intensely obnoxious to Duke fan since the Tarheels were up big with a few minutes to go. By then, UNC fan had chalked up the win and was mingling, failing to notice the violent comeback Duke was staging. With the clock winding down, and UNC fan now in a state of panic, Austin Rivers buried a three to win it for Duke. Over the collective uproar of bar patrons, UNC fan stared at the screen for a long moment before disappearing into the bathroom where he remained for several minutes, shouting into the toilet bowl or drinking handsoap or whatever. God it was the best.
Because the Darrin Horn era ended so disastrously, we frequently forget that Carolina actually had a pretty good team in Horn's first season, and there was legitimate excitement regarding a potential program turnaround. Katie already mentioned one of my favorite moments from that season, so I'll mention a couple more: The two games against Billy Gillespie's Kentucky teams. The first game was in Rupp, and Devan Downey broke Kentucky's hearts on this gamewinner. In the rematch in Columbia, Carolina blocked a school-record 16 shots en route to a dominant 77-59 victory. This game wasn't even as close as that score suggests; it was over at halftime, but Carolina took its foot off the gas in the final minutes. It felt like Carolina had arrived after that game and would blast its way into the NCAA Tourney and, with a strong roster returning, continue to be successful the following year. Unfortunately, Carolina would lose four of its last five, end the season in the NIT first round, and see the 2009 season torpedoed by attrition and injuries. The rest is history.
For most of my life I haven't been a huge fan of basketball and its only been in the past couple of seasons that I've legitimately watched both the Gamecocks and March Madness. I attended and watched a few games a year as a student, but never got incredibly emotionally invested. My initial thought to answer this question was the upset of #1 Kentucky my freshman year, but while it was fun and exciting to watch, it didn't have a lasting impact on me as a fan.
So, I decided to go with something from earlier this season: that time that the Gamecocks beat #9 Iowa State. Do y'all remember how much fun that win and the days after it were? It was our 7th straight win to finish out a tough non-conference schedule and suddenly it seemed possible that we could do well in the SEC and have better season than anyone expected. We got votes in the top 25! There was talk of us being a tournament team! I think this was the first time that I'd ever had a real concept of what it could be like to pull for a good men's basketball team and the way the rest of the season played out doesn't change how much fun that win was for me.