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For The First Time, South Carolina Men's Basketball Reaches Final Four


Let's face it. When sports fans think of Carolina and March Madness, they are thinking about North Carolina. And, yeah, North Carolina is in the Final Four this year, but there's also another Carolina that is still alive and well.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Final Four. Final Four. Final Four.

MCEVERS: On Sunday, students from the University of South Carolina went berserk after the men's basketball team earned its first trip to the Final Four. Thanks to The State newspaper for that tape.

And it's not just the South Carolina men. The women's team made the Final Four, too. So at one of the most football-iest (ph) of football schools, basketball is the undisputed king, at least this week.

Joining me now is Gene Sapakoff. He covers the Gamecocks for The Post and Courier in Charleston. Thanks for being with us today.

GENE SAPAKOFF: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: So I got to say, women's team in the Final Four, not so surprising. But the men's team, they lost six of their last nine games before the tournament, and they were just a 7 seed. How did this happen?

SAPAKOFF: Well, they started shooting the ball better is the main thing. They've played good defense all year, and in the second game of the NCAA tournament, they beat Duke by shooting 71 percent in the second half, which is unheard of for any team. And that's kind of been the key because defense had been steady all year.

MCEVERS: I wonder is there a Gamecocks bandwagon now? Are you seeing, like, a lot of people who weren't fans now becoming fans and wearing their T-shirts around town?

SAPAKOFF: Absolutely. There's T-shirts, car flags and everything else because it's not just the unattached fan. And we have a lot of people that have moved to especially the coastal parts of South Carolina from other places in the country, especially in the Northeast, that have kind of jumped on the bandwagon, I think.

But even South Carolina's base Gamecock Nation people, a lot of them were really split on this team for most of the year. It had been since 2004 since South Carolina has been in the NCAA tournament and since 1973 since they've won an NCAA tournament game. So they were kind of - I don't know if it was paranoid, but very concerned going into the market game, the first game of the NCAA tournament. And now look what's happened.

MCEVERS: Right. Like we said, it's not a surprise that the women are in the Final Four. It's their second Final Four in three years. How are people feeling about them? I mean, has the attention to the men's team kind of pushed the women to the side?

SAPAKOFF: Well, probably a little bit, and that's unfortunate. But Dawn Staley is as happy as anyone. She's the head coach of the Gamecock women's team, and I think she really understands and gets it. But, hey, they've got a chance to do something good in Dallas, too, and they're doing it without one of their best players. Alaina Coates was hurt in the last game of the regular season and hasn't been able to play with an ankle injury.

MCEVERS: Next up for the men is they will play 1-seed Gonzaga on Saturday, and the women will play 2-seed Stanford. How are you feeling about each team's chances of winning those games and then winning it all?

SAPAKOFF: I like the women's team chances of beating Stanford. It's going to be a tough matchup, but I don't think they can beat Yukon in the championship game. The men's team, I like their chances against Gonzaga. It could be a little tougher if they have to play North Carolina.

And, hey, the bottom line is they beat Duke, and I think they think that if they can beat Duke, they can they can beat anyone in the country.

MCEVERS: (Laughter). Right. We should also say that Clemson won the football national championship, and I know that Gamecock fans would not count the title of South Carolina's hated in-state rival. But it has to be kind of mind-blowing that South Carolina could be home to three of college sports' most coveted titles, right?

SAPAKOFF: Well, actually four. Coastal Carolina, the college in Myrtle Beach - actually in Conway near Myrtle Beach - is the reigning baseball champion...


SAPAKOFF: ...And that was a Cinderella story last June.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

SAPAKOFF: So it's kind of the state of winners right now in South Carolina.

MCEVERS: Gene Sapakoff covers South Carolina sports for The Post and Courier in Charleston. Thank you so much.

SAPAKOFF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SBTRKT SONG, "READY SET LOOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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