By Beth Eiser, probably the biggest Gamecock Men’s Basketball fan you know. She’s not hard to spot in her Thornwell or Silva jersey, screaming louder than Frank Martin at every home game.
Columbia, SC is a basketball town. Surprised to hear this? You shouldn’t be. Under the Frank Martin & Dawn Staley regime at Colonial Life Arena (or CLA for short), Gamecock Basketball locked down a Final Four run for the men and a National Championship for the women in 2017 – and the basketball buzz hasn’t died down.
Last season, Columbia played host to the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (yep, Zion dunked at CLA – and we went ALL out). In 2020, we’re on track for another deep tournament run for the top-ranked Gamecock Women’s squad after a first-ever win over one of the winningest programs in women’s college basketball history, the #5 UConn Huskies.
Now that we’ve established that basketball is a kind of a big deal around here, I’ll share with you my Hoop Day Hacks – or where to go for a pre-game craft beer and bite, how to avoid paying for parking and my favorite seats to snag in CLA.
It all starts with the swag
Part of establishing that dominating home-court advantage is creating a sea of garnet in the stands. The morning of the big game, check out the Devine Street shops to get your gameday look. If you’re looking for a throwback Carolina logo polo or knit Gamecock belt, drop in Brittons. For a chic garnet sweater or clear handbag (don't forget CLA’s clear bag policy) check out Monkee’s or Just The Thing. If you’re looking for Gamecock Men’s & Women’s basketball-specific swag, I’d recommend heading to the UofSC Bookstore on campus or Addam’s University Bookstore at USC (or just wait ‘til you get to the game – they sell t-shirts, sweatshirts & hats at kiosks inside the arena).
Park like a pro
No one likes paying for parking (or accidentally getting towed) after spending money on tickets. Show up early and snag a street spot over the railroad tracks from CLA on Pulaski St. (~5 min. walk to the arena), which is conveniently also the home of Columbia Craft Brewing Company.
Slam-dunk snacks & sips
Tip-off’s at 6 p.m., and you want to make sure you fuel up for two hours of cheering on the Gamecocks. Don’t forget – you can bring one sealed water bottle per person with you into the game to stay hydrated, too. Drop in at one of Columbia’s fastest-growing breweries just ‘round the corner from CLA, Columbia Craft, for a pregame beer flight (don’t miss the Famously Hop if you’re an IPA fan). Just a block away from the arena you’ll find Thirsty Fellow Pizzeria & Pub, which is a must-go for gorgonzola chips, stone-fired pizza and local beers. If it’s nice out, get there early for a spot on their porch to enjoy a local beer while you people watch as the mass crowd descends upon the arena.
Find your seats
With 18,000 seats to choose from, it can be a little daunting to look at the online seat map and figure out where to sit. If you can score tickets towards center court, the view will be pretty sweet from either the lower or upper section of Colonial Life Arena. Personally, I like to find seats in section 103 (behind the home bench) to get a premium view of Coach Frank’s...enthusiasm. However, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. No matter if you’re court-side or at the tip-top of the upper section, make sure you’re loud.
Get yourself to the game
If you want to catch the teams warming up and have time to grab a beer at concessions, I’d recommend making it to your seats 30 minutes or more before tip-off. The official pregame festivities (you won’t want to miss the hype video) begin ~10 minutes before the game starts. Make sure you download the Gamecock Lights app to partake in the light show that happens as the announcer’s introducing the home squad.
At half time, the concession and alcohol lines are inevitably very, very long. Instead, I like to try to grab my TK Oriental Kitchen or Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles during a media timeout rather than after the first 20 minutes of gameplay. If you don’t have one already, use halftime to walk around to the front lobby of the arena and grab free men’s & women’s basketball posters to hang at home. Luckily, CLA has multiple men’s & women’s restrooms located near all seating sections, and I’ve never “waited to go”, even during halftime. If you like to just stay in your seats for the show, I’m a huge fan of every Carolina Girls dance performance (if I could go back to my college days, I would definitely audition for the team).
Stick around for the second
You won’t hear Colonial Life Arena yell much louder than when the opposing team is shooting free throws with under 8 minutes to go in the second half – because that’s Chick-fil-a Fowl Shot time. If the other team misses two consecutive free throws, everyone gets a free Chick-fil-a chicken sandwich with their ticket stub after the game.
Celebrate a “W” in the Vista
After the buzzer sounds, and you’ve run down court-side to high-five your favorite Gamecocks and sing the alma mater, walk up a few blocks to the Vista for post-game cocktails at Pearlz Upstairs bar or a slice of cake at Kaminsky’s. There’s nothing better than cheers-ing to a Gamecock victory while waiting out the traffic to head back home.