COLUMBIA, S.C. — University of South Carolina students were wearing even more Gamecocks gear than usual Friday around campus as they get ready to watch their women’s and men’s basketball teams play in the Final Four. The women play Stanford Friday night while the men play Gonzaga Saturday night.
“I feel like we’re so excited for the women’s team because they’ve been building for this, but the men’s team is just playing with house money because no one expected us to get this far,” says USC freshman Ben Cottingham.
His friend, Nick McGarry, says of the men’s team, “I followed the team throughout the year, went to a bunch of games, and I saw the potential in this team, but honestly, like, once you get to a tournament anything can happen and you can definitely say anything has happened. We beat Marquette. We beat Duke and we continued rolling.”
Fellow freshman Olivia Phillips says, “I’m really excited. I never really used to follow basketball, but since this is my first year and we’re doing so well, it’s really exciting for me.”
Stores are selling Final Four merchandise and there are several tents on street corners around Columbia selling Gamecocks and Final Four gear too. Vendor Ken Woods works for a company that he says travels only to cities that are playing for national championships. “I almost sold out yesterday and I’m waiting for more stock now because they just about cleaned me out,” he says.
Because USC has two teams in the Final Four, the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum show is broadcasting from Columbia Friday afternoon and evening. They’re set up on the rooftop patio of Carolina Ale House in the Vista. General Manager Troy Robinson says the tournament has already been great for business and he expects to be filled to capacity the next two nights.
“It has significantly changed the way we’ve done stuff,” he says. “Our traditional orders, the things we get from vendors, the purveyors, there’s things we just can’t keep in stock, you know? We’re having to do some, a lot of creative things to make sure we have enough food on hand, enough product on hand.”
After the men’s team beat Florida to make it to the Final Four, some students celebrated by splashing around in the fountain in Five Points near campus. There was some minor damage, so Columbia Police are asking students not to get into the fountain if the Gamecocks win again.
But there’s also a much larger fountain in front of the Thomas Cooper Library on campus, and Ben Cottingham says, “Come tomorrow night, we’re all going to be over there in the fountain.”