Daniel Sweeney/SEC Country
South Carolina fans were out in full force in Phoenix for the Final Four on Saturday.

Championship for the Lady Gamecocks, plus silver linings for the men

Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

The Lady Gamecocks are national champions by way of a 67-55 win against Mississippi State on Sunday night — coming on the heels of their 62-53 win against Stanford in the Final Four.

RELATED: CHAMPS! South Carolina women’s basketball wins first national title

“For the first time in four years, women’s college basketball has a new top team and it wears garnet and black,” writes Mike Wilson. “The South Carolina women’s basketball team is the new national champion, winning a national title for the first time in program history.”

For a program that’s been in the upper echelon of women’s hoops for the last five years, Sunday night was a coronation — the Lady Gamecocks sit atop the mountain.

A’ja Wilson led the way with 23 points and 10 rebounds, taking home the game’s Most Outstanding Player award.

Dawn Staley secured her spot on the Gamecocks’ Mount Rushmore long ago but leading the program to its first-ever national championship is nothing short of amazing.

Congrats to Staley and the entire team!

Comeback comes up short but heart doesn’t

South Carolina basketball-Sindarius Thornwell-Justin McKie-Duane Notice-South Carolina
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When facing a 14-point deficit in the second half of a national semifinal game, it’d be easy to let fear and panic take over.

RELATED: South Carolina basketball drops heartbreaker to Gonzaga in Final Four 

Not these Gamecocks. They were up for the challenge — with a wild comeback as they ultimately fell to Gonzaga, 77-73, on Saturday night in Phoenix.

“[Coach Frank Martin] was extremely proud of our fight,” sophomore guard Hassani Gravett said. “He is happy with the guys that he has on this team. He knew that we weren’t going to give up. He was upset with us in the first half. So, to see us come back and fight and bring the game all the way back that close, he was definitely proud of us.”

In a postseason run that saw them knock off the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in their region, the Gamecocks came up just short against the No. 1-seeded Zags.

I was there in the stands and feared the worst when Gonzaga’s lead ballooned to double digits — but just as they had the entire tournament, USC just would not give up.

RELATED: South Carolina basketball finds pride, appreciation in midst of heartbreak in Final Four

It was awe-inspiring. The crowd. The energy. The emotion. The standing ovation for the team as they exited the court.

It wasn’t a cheap trip to Arizona, but it was worth every penny.

It’s cliché and Twitter’s predictably had a field day with Martin’s “winners” quote, but as a South Carolina fan, I couldn’t be any prouder of this team and all it accomplished.

The list of schools that have never made the Final Four is long, and the Gamecocks are now happily absent from it.

Saluting the seniors

They didn’t go out on top on the court, but seniors Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and Justin McKie led the Gamecocks to unprecedented heights this past season.

RELATED: South Carolina basketball seniors leave legacy of passion for hard work

The trio combined for 33 points in the loss to Gonzaga on Saturday in what would be the players’ final game in a South Carolina uniform.

“The three bought into South Carolina for various reasons, but none with any false pretenses about any ease of winning as Gamecocks,” wrote Mike Wilson.

“Martin made no promises of success, just that he would give them all he had to make them better men and basketball players. But after reaching the Final Four four years after starting their career with a 14-20 season, it wasn’t unfathomable to them to have reached such a level.”

The Gamecocks lose a lot with the seniors’ departures, especially in Thornwell, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, but the three leave behind a foundation and legacy that many thought impossible when they signed with USC four years ago.

Talk it out

PJ Dozier-South Carolina-South Carolina basketball
South Carolina guard PJ Dozier (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The senior may not be the only players moving on from the basketball program.

RELATED: South Carolina’s PJ Dozier to discuss future with family, coaches

With NBA size and an improving game, sophomore PG PJ Dozier could leave Columbia for the bright lights of the league …

“I haven’t really put any thought into it,” Dozier said when asked about his NBA aspirations after the national semifinals on Saturday. “I’m pretty sure I’ll sit down with my coach and my family and discuss what would be the best move for me, but I haven’t really put too much thought into it.”

 The deadline for a decision is 11:59 p.m. on April 23.

Spring game stars

Ty’Son Williams (Hale McGranahan/SEC Country)

The Gamecocks returned to the gridiron on Saturday for the least-talked about spring game in recent history.

RELATED: South Carolina offense looks sharp in spring game

QB Jake Bentley was sensational, but RBs Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams stole the show …

“I think people saw today the depth that we have and the vast amount of playmakers that we can put on the field,” Bentley said of the talented duo. “That’s great for us.”

Freshman Jaylin Dickerson and the returning Skai Moore shined on the defensive side of the ball.

RELATED: Garnet & Black Spring Game analysis

The injury report was short, but unfortunately included starting CB Jamarcus King, who suffered a hairline fracture in his forearm in the first half.

Welcome to Williams-Brice

The Gamecocks played host to several recruits on Saturday, but the group was highlighted by a pair of 5-star defensive ends, Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry.

RELATED: Quarterbacks, 5-star ends see Gamecocks in action

While both players have several Crystal Ball picks for Clemson, Thomas has been trending toward Carolina as of late.

2018 QBs Dakereon Joyner and Tyler Shough were on campus as well, along with former Duke quarterback and graduate transfer Thomas Sirk.

Hale McGranahan has a more detailed look at all of the visitors from Saturday.

Iyama commits

Four-star OL Maxwell Iyama committed to the Gamecocks on Sunday over offers from Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri and others.

RELATED: South Carolina lands commitment from OT Maxwell Iyama

The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native is the third offensive line commit for Carolina in the 2018 cycle.

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