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NCAAW: Gamecocks take over attendance crown in 2010s, plus a weekend of buzzer beaters and blocks

Cassandra Negley
South Carolina guard Zia Cooke (1), Tyasha Harris, left, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (21), and Aliyah Boston (4) celebrate a 3-point basket during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Duke on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina defeated Duke 89-46. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
The Gamecocks are playing in front of big crowds this decade. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

The Connecticut Huskies are ending the decade right where they started it: No. 1 in the Associated Press rankings. Now we’ll see if they can start the next decade with a title the way they did in 2010.

What has changed is the team with the attendance crown. Tennessee passed it to South Carolina this decade, and earlier this year Yahoo Sports spoke with Diana Koval, the Gamecocks women’s basketball communications contact, about how that boost in fandom came to be. As the calendar turns over in a week, and the growth of women’s basketball continues with an NCAA record for total attendance last season, it’s worth a look at what the 2010s has brought a team like South Carolina

Koval described the Gamecocks drive for attendance to Yahoo Sports in February for an International Women’s Day piece. In the early 2010s, the Gamecocks averaged around 3,000 fans. So for 2013, the year iconic head coach Dawn Staley enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, they designed a “drive for five” to get to 5,000, and blasted through that mark to reach 6,000.

When A’ja Wilson, now a Las Vegas Aces star, committed to the school it soared from 6,000 to 12,000 and has stayed high ever since as the team embeds in the community and draws a wide range of Gamecocks “family.”

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The Gamecocks have led attendance since 2015, taking the crown that had been Tennessee’s for 18 of the 20 years prior. The other two years (1996, 2003) belonged to UConn. The last time neither of the two historic powerhouses led in attendance was 1994 (Ohio State). Until the Gamecocks. Their attendance number continues to climb and now sits at 10,662 through six home dates.

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Part of that is the talent coming in the arena door and the winning that comes out of it. But seeing is believing, so getting people in the door is the first step. The game sells itself and will continue to do so once a person decides they’re a fan. (Koval also talked at length about how media coverage impacts fandom and attendance.)

Iowa State ranked second in attendance last season and is on the same trajectory at 9,262 per game through four games.

Oregon is, unsurprisingly, averaging more per game so far this season than last year. The Ducks’ numbers skyrocketed with Sabrina Ionescu mania, taking a 175 percent jump, per ESPN, from her freshman season in 2016-17 to her junior season in 2018-19. They averaged 2,595 fans per game that first year in which they finished 23-14. Last year they averaged 7,148 and watched the Ducks go to their first Final Four. Through five home contests this seasons — many of which have been blowouts against inferior competition — the Ducks average 9,402.

The Civil War between Oregon (10-1) and Oregon State is already sold out and is the earliest in program history, per the school. The two top-ranked squads play in Eugene on Friday, Jan. 24 and in Corvallis that Sunday.

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It’s only the third sellout in program history, joining last season’s Civil War and a 2017 game against Stanford. The Beavers are out to their best start in program history and are a legitimate contender for the NCAA title. They’ve also won the Civil War 15 of the 17 meetings, including the last nine at home. The weekend should be circled on any basketball fans calendar for it will impact not only the rankings, but the seeds for the conference tournament and therefore the NCAA tournament.

All this to say, people do care about women’s basketball. And when it becomes a topic at the holiday dinner table, here are some numbers to show it.

Buzzer beater game is strong with these ones

Sign Tyasha Harris to your fantasy football team for the final haul if you’re in need of a miracle. The South Carolina senior threw this up to end the first quarter. It was officially measured at 71 feet.

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The Gamecocks went into the break with a 73-60 victory over No. 25 South Dakota and a Christmas sweater game ready for the week. They had buzzer beating buckets in each of the first three quarters, shot by freshman Zia Cooke to end the second and Destanni Henderson to end the third.

“Three shots the end of the quarter I thought were fairly well defended," South Dakota coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “They hit shots and that's a credit to them.”

And no Gamecocks update is complete without a look at freshman Aliyah “Block” Boston.

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NCAA record triple-double for Texas Tech senior

It was another “day of the block” with Texas Tech senior forward Brittany Brewer earning her first career triple-double. She had 12 points, 14 rebounds and 16 blocks. Her blocks tied the NCAA record, set by TCU’s Sandora Irvin 14 years ago. It is a program record, which was previously 10 set in 1997 by Rene Hanebutt, and the Lady Raiders set a team record with 20 total blocks.

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Texas Tech (10-0) defeated Louisiana-Monroe, 83-38. Brewer bested her season averages in the win (16.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, 5.1 blocks) and is shooting up the program career record list. Brewer, a Texas native who grew up 2 1/2 hours away from Lubbock, she is second on the all-time blocks list with 224. She’s now eighth for blocks in a season with 62 and there is still more than half the season to play.

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