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Commentary: Blue Hose story will need more than fairytale magic

Sports Commentary – John Clayton

PC’s Dennaye Hinds (00) takes a shot during practice Thursday at Colonial Life Arena.

Forget about Cinderella.

She’s out of her depth now in Columbia.

This is Buster Douglas business. This are Armani Edwards and Appalachian State stunning Michigan in the Big House vibes. This is Broadway Joe and the Jets beating the near-invincible Colts. This is Charismatic winning the Derby at 31-1 but with longer odds.

This is a “Miracle on Ice” type moment.

No. 1 South Carolina awaits Friday afternoon. The Gamecocks are famously 32-0 and the favorite to win the whole thing as the NCAA Women’s Tournament rolls on toward the Final Four in Cleveland.

And they beat Presbyterian by 70 points in December.

Over the past 24 hours, PC has become the darling of the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Hose became the smallest school to win a tournament game, beating Sacred Heart 49-42 Wednesday night in a First Four contest with the winner getting the right to be a sacrificial lamb for Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks, who seem to wear teams down with an air of inevitability.

Those teams know it’s coming. They know South Carolina will grind them down. Or the Gamecocks will explode offensively or put their opponents on lockdown defensively. They can play it any way you like and beat you.

Relentless. Talented. Inevitable.

There is certainly a “Cinderella” element to PC’s run to this point – winning the Big South Championship as a No. 5 seed, beating a Sacred Heart team that had returned to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year, overcoming injury after injury only to find their footing in the postseason.

Now that the Blue Hose players are finally on a big stage, everyone is seeing how smart, insightful and engaging they are.

They can see Tilda Sjökvist bounce off the court waving at the Blue Hose faithful prior to PC’s game against Sacred Heart.

Then, they could watch her give a similar quick wave and hello to the Sacred Heart pep band during the first half. They were calling her name for a little good-natured ribbing, and she was having fun.

Watching at home, people can hear head coach Alaura Sharp talk about the love that caused every player on last year’s roster to return for a shot the championship they won and to stand where they are right now.

They can hear sixth-year center Bryanna Brady tell them she put her life on hold for one more shot with this team, even after offseason hip surgery and hours of rehab. No regrets either – not a one.

They all have stories. It’s tough not to root for all of them and their desire to finish this one story together.

But if they are to have any chance against mighty South Carolina, the Blue Hose will have to forget about Cinderella and channel their inner Buster Douglas, the unheralded boxer who beat and beat up Mike Tyson when Tyson was at the top of his game. He did that long before any of them were born, but it is the stuff of sports legend now.

Back then, Tyson seemed inevitable, too – Thanos with boxing gloves instead of that shiny gauntlet.

It is perhaps the tallest task faced by any team in either the men’s or women’s NCAA Tournament brackets – an unbeaten team on their home court in front of rabid fans who woke up from dreams of football dominance only to find it in women’s basketball.

And PC? The Blue Hose are happy to be here, but not just happy to be here.

They are realistic about the challenge ahead. They are, after all, the same players on the court who got drummed by 70 three months ago. Things like that can sting for a while, but they seem determined to let everyone know they are not the same team they were back then.

It may not be enough, but I’m here for all of it.

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