While the Charlotte 49ers women’s basketball team ended their postseason run after two games in the Conference USA tournament and one game in the WNIT, there were still women’s basketball teams playing in Halton Arena on Friday, March 22 and Sunday, March 24.
The Niners were granted their first WNIT bid since the 2015-16 season in which they also lost in the first round by only three points to Wake Forest and finished with an overall record of 19-12. This season, Charlotte ended with an 18-13 overall record.
Nevertheless, several games of the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament would be played inside Halton Arena.
There were new bands, new teams and certainly, new fans in Halton Arena. But, why were they there? It may seem like a ridiculous question but many have been curious. A simple Google search would seemingly do the trick, but it’s more than just straight facts.
After the decision was made in April 2017 to host the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament in Colonial Life Arena at South Carolina, South Carolina’s athletic department and Athletic Director Ray Tanner worked to be granted a waiver to host the women’s tournament as well.
The top-16 seeded teams in the NCAA tournament have the ability to host the first and second round at their home venues or within 30 miles if another venue better suits their needs. There is also an option to find an arena further away if necessary. However, completing the process of getting the waiver and then hosting at an arena whose home team is not even in the tournament doesn’t happen too often, so when South Carolina was afforded the opportunity, they searched for a host site.
“Our staff looked at venues across South Carolina that met our capacity needs and many had hosting date conflicts. Halton Arena is a quality venue and the accommodations for the teams in the area will serve as a great host for the tournament,” said Tanner. “Charlotte is important for Gamecock Athletics and this will also be a great opportunity to have the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in a large market.”
Halton Arena accommodated the capacity, and the quality that South Carolina was looking for in order to host the first and second rounds and the city of Charlotte and its potential speaks for itself.
“We’re excited about the possibility of hosting the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and assisting our good friends at the University of South Carolina,” said Charlotte Athletic Director Mike Hill. “When Ray Tanner approached us about this, we didn’t hesitate. We believe in the power of the sport and the positive impact it has on our University and city.”
Put simply, the Gamecocks put butts in seats, although it wasn’t always that way. When the Niners met the Gamecocks in the second round of the WNIT in 2011, the Niners certainly had more fans follow them on the road to be in the stands in Colonial Life Arena. Even so, that was a long time ago and South Carolina has had no trouble growing their fan base. With that large, supportive fan base comes the need for an arena and facilities to match that.
“I appreciate the persistence Ray Tanner showed in getting a venue for us to host and the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee for recognizing what the opportunity to host games means to our team, our fans and the growth of our sport,” said South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley. “Our Gamecock FAMS have shown their loyalty to our program through the postseason every year and I know they’ll continue to do that with us in Charlotte.”
The first round held in Halton saw No. 4 South Carolina in a matchup with No. 13 Belmont and No. 5 Florida State in a matchup with No. 12 Bucknell. After a surging victory for South Carolina at 74-52 and a battle from Florida State to beat Bucknell 70-67, the Seminoles and the Gamecocks filled Halton Arena with garnet on Sunday, March 24. The No. 4 and No. 5 teams traded buckets throughout the second round contest, never hearing silence come from the crowd. The first quarter ended in a tie and the score was 37-30 with South Carolina in the lead by the half.
Coming out of the locker room, neither team gave the appearance of wavering. To start off the half, South Carolina worked to further their lead and Florida State worked to come back and with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter, the Seminoles brought the score to within one at 44-45. It seemed that with every Florida State score, South Carolina would break away just before the Seminoles fought to get right back in it. The third quarter ended at South Carolina 52, Florida State 51.
A tie game at 60 with less than four and a half minutes to go in the fourth, it was nothing short of an intense ending, fitting for what had been such a competitive game. Florida State nearly gaining the lead forced Staley to call a timeout with 2:31 to go. Coming out of the timeout, the Gamecocks earned an and one to bring them to a 63-60 lead with 2:14 to go. The Seminoles responded with a jumper to bring their deficit to within one right before the Gamecocks were sent to the line to bring the lead back to three.
Florida State soon dropped two more points and South Carolina rolled one in for another and-one and a 68-84 lead with 27.2 to go. With the Gamecocks in the bonus, they were sent to the line yet again and pushed the lead to 69-64 with 16.8 to go. A Florida State foul and a following technical foul led to more Gamecock free throws with 9.8 to go and a score of 72-64. A missed shot from the Seminoles ended the game and the South Carolina Gamecocks would advance to the final four. Though the entire game was full of back and forth play and trading shots, the Gamecocks pulled away in the end and you’d expect nothing less than a battle from the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in a second round tournament game.
“I am super proud,” said Staley. “It is about sustaining and keeping your program in a place that you are competing for national championships. You have that in front of you.”
The Gamecocks will leave Charlotte as they look to grab another win in their post season run on Saturday, March 30 to make it to the Championship game.