For some people, the trials and tribulations of waiting hours camping out before a big basketball game might not be worth it. However, for me and several friends, the atmosphere that reverberates around Gampel Pavilion during and after the game makes the wait in the freezing cold very rewarding.
The atmosphere that Gampel provides game after game is incredible. However, if I were to pick out one game in my history as a fan of UConn basketball as the most special, I would pick last night’s legendary women’s basketball victory over their rival South Carolina to earn their 100th consecutive victory. For me, no game epitomizes the beautiful atmosphere from pre-game to post-game more than this game does. To explain what it feels like, I’ll take you step-by-step through the campout.
4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
I leave my dorm, in the Nathan Hale Inn, roughly five hours before tip-off. The lobby is filled with travelling Gamecocks’ fans and alumni all here for the big game. I can tell it’s already going to be just as cold as the last home matchup against South Carolina (which I also camped out for), but I set out anyway and arrive at Gampel by 4:30 as the third person waiting in line, along with a few of my friends.
Around 5 p.m., we can see the Huskies are going through their final walkthrough of practice and are taking some fun half-court shots to loosen up. Senior guard Saniya Chong banks one in, perhaps as a little piece of good luck for those of us waiting. By 5:15 p.m., my hands and feet are already completely numb (all part of the waiting game in the middle of February) so I take a quick break across the street in the School of Business lobby, since the line isn’t long enough to lose my place.
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
By 6:00 p.m., the few of us there start to huddle up and sing songs and chants for the Huskies to pass the time and keep warm. With just over an hour until the doors open, the crowd outside the East entrance of Gampel starts to grow and people start tossing out game predictions. Some say it’ll be close. Others, including myself, say UConn will win in a blowout. Of course, not one person publicly thinks the Huskies will lose with a chance for 100 straight wins. Around 7 p.m., the security guards start pretending to open the doors and play around with the fans at the front who are at this point frozen solid.
At almost exactly 7:30 p.m., the guards each come out and try to instill orderly lines so everyone gets in safely. Everyone is getting very anxious and has their tickets and student IDs out and at the ready. People who just got to the line at the right time manage to sneak through and be the first, so dedicated fans like myself get pushed back a few rows. Although that is among the most annoying things about the process of waiting in line for big games, that’s a topic of debate for another day, since it ultimately doesn’t matter once you situate yourself in one of the first few rows and wait to thaw out in the hour and a half before tip-off.
At this point everyone in the lower deck is ecstatic. The camera crews from various networks give the students air-time and I do my best “Hi Mom” for the camera when I think it is looking at me. As the crowd starts to pile into the arena, you can tell the noise and the atmosphere is different tonight compared to most nights. Obviously, it is a big game for a milestone and a game against a great team. However, it is absolutely the loudest environment it has ever been for a game, at least in my experience at UConn. As the Huskies’ pre-game hype video plays and the lights are off with legendary coach Geno Auriemma narrating, everyone knows that game-time is here and the wait is finally over after hours of cold winds and impatient waiting in the seats.
From start to finish, UConn’s win over South Carolina was incredible. Legendary UConn women’s basketball alumni like Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart, among others, were in attendance to show their support. Even U.S. women’s national team soccer star Megan Rapinoe was at Gampel to show the team some love.
The girls, who faced perhaps one of their greatest threats in the nation, played with fire the whole game and the crowd fed off of that. Even when the calls went the other way, the Huskies battled and fought and the crowd roared like never before. When the team started to pull away late in the game and everyone knew that win No. 100 was coming, Gampel got even louder. It was truly incredible and was an honor to say I was there.
As the confetti $100 bills with Auriemma’s face on them fell from the rafters, Auriemma and the team had their ESPN interviews and gave speeches thanking the fans for all their support. An ESPN commentator and a beloved friend of the UConn fan base came over and took pictures with the students. Moore and Stewie also came over for photos, an incredible feeling and experience for people who have been watching UConn women’s basketball for years now.
As I looked up at Gampel’s deteriorating roof and all the banners hanging from the rafters, I thought to myself how great a decision it was to camp out by the East entrance in the hours before the game. The wait, the cold, the anxiety in line. It all makes everything so worth it when you experience a game and an atmosphere like this. This is the epitome of what makes UConn basketball so special and why this is the Basketball Capital of the World.