April 1, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina women's basketball made history this year by reaching the NCAA Final Four for the first time. Former Gamecock Sheila Foster takes pride not only in seeing the current success of her alma mater, but also in being part South Carolina's first appearance in the national semifinals in 1980 when women's basketball was under the auspices of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), as well as the program's first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament during her senior year of 1982.
"Being in the AIAW, we were the first ones to get to the final four, it just wasn't the NCAA," Foster said. "I am so proud of that. I get chills thinking about it. It was the greatest feeling in the world to be there and represent the University of South Carolina. I'm not taking anything away from this year's team making it to the NCAA Final Four, but I know our time in the AIAW final four is something we will never forget."
The AIAW ran the women's basketball national tournament from 1972-1982. The Gamecocks won their first three postseason games in 1980 over Southern Cal, Northwestern and Stephen F. Austin, respectively, to advance Mount Pleasant, Michigan, as one of the AIAW final four teams. After falling 75-72 to Tennessee in the semifinal game, the Gamecocks defeated Louisiana Tech 77-69 for third place.
"You have to play a lot of games to get there," Foster said. "We had that determination to get there. Just to be there was the greatest feeling. To be one of the last four teams playing was really something."
Foster suited up for the Gamecocks from 1978-1982, and she is still South Carolina's career leader in points (2,266) and rebounds (1,427). She was a two-time All-American and was the first female student-athlete inducted into the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993. She was also the first female student-athlete at South Carolina to have her number retired that same year.
"All four years were great," Foster said. "I'm so proud that I chose the University of South Carolina. It's something you don't forget and it's great to see fans, officials and coaches you played against who still know me."
Foster averaged 16.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game during her career, capped by a stellar 1981-1982 senior season in which she posted 20.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. That year was also special as she played in the first NCAA women's tournament ever held and helped the team reach the Sweet 16 of what was then a 32-team field, leading the Gamecocks with 19 points in both postseason games.
"If we win the national championship, they will have to come get me off the floor. There's no way they could hold me back from cheering with my Gamecocks. I would be so proud. The University of South Carolina is in my blood."
While the media attention and press coverage for women's basketball is nowhere near what it is today, Foster said they did have good fan support.
"When I go to the Gamecock games today, I still see people that were there when I was playing," Foster said. "They remember me, and I remember them cheering. We had good crowds, but it's not like it is now."
South Carolina's crowd has grown since her days on the hardwood as the Gamecocks led the nation in home attendance with more than 12,000 fans per game in the Colonial Life Arena this year.
Foster is not shy in describing how the rules allowed for more physical play back in her career.
"Back then we played more physical," Foster said. "I came down with a rebound, and watch out, you might get knocked down. Nothing mean, but it was just more physical. Now they play physical, but they have to play at little smarter because you can't touch the player when you're on defense or else it's a foul."
Foster has had no problem handling physical battles off the court as she is currently celebrating one year of remission from breast cancer. She travels from Spartanburg to Columbia to watch games when she is able, and she will be in Tampa for the NCAA Final Four hoping to witness more basketball history.
"If we win the national championship, they will have to come get me off the floor," Foster laughed. "There's no way they could hold me back from cheering with my Gamecocks. I would be so proud. The University of South Carolina is in my blood."
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