GLENDALE, Ariz. — South Carolina is a No. 7 seed with little to no history in the NCAA Tournament.
Talk of being a Cinderella, though? The Gamecocks are not really interested in hearing that.
“We know that we are a great team and we are amongst great teams,” sophomore guard PJ Dozier said. “We know we earned the right to be considered a great team, playing at this time of year. Anybody who is still playing is a great team.
“We are just happy to still have the opportunity to come out and have our names with theirs.”
Those names are North Carolina, Oregon and Gonzaga, with the former having a storied history. Gonzaga has a lot of recent success, yet also is making its first Final Four appearance.
But the Gamecocks emerged as the darlings of the NCAA Tournament, the school that shouldn’t be on this stage and surprised many by making this tournament run in which it doubled the program’s all-time tournament wins in a matter of 10 days.
South Carolina is the third No. 7 seed to advance to the Final Four in the past four seasons, joining the 2014 national champion UConn Huskies and 2015 semifinalist Michigan State. The Gamecocks started by trouncing No. 10 seed Marquette before upsetting three higher seeds in the East Region — No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Baylor and No. 4 Florida.
So the story has largely written itself, with a program that has never been on this state knocking off teams with higher seeds, better odds and long histories. But the Gamecocks want it known they have worked for this and aren’t merely a happy story in March.
“I know how hard this team worked and the amount of hours we put in in the weight room and in the preseason,” freshman guard Rakym Felder said. “I was like, ‘This is a special team and I want to be part of it.’ …
“We worked too hard to come up short. We are just trying to keep the season alive and keep it going.”
The Gamecocks have a tall task in their way to do that. No. 1-seeded Gonzaga awaits Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET in Phoenix. But the Gamecocks are confident, just as they have been all along without needing the feeling of being the story of the tournament or a darling of the nation for the ride they have been on in the past two weeks.
“I’m the type of guy that I was confident in these guys my whole entire career here,” senior guard Duane Notice said. “I’ve been confident in the teammates we have had and the pieces we have had every year. The whole underdog aspect, that’s what the media puts on us. As a group as an unit, inside our circle and inside our family, we know what we are capable of.
“As competitors, if you put us against anybody, I feel like we have an opportunity to compete against them.”