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Another court storm coming? LSU prepares for No. 1 South Carolina

A court-storming incident last weekend involving Iowa’s Caitlin Clark − where the star guard was accidentally knocked over by an Ohio State fan sprinting to join the celebration after the No. 15 Buckeyes upset the No. 2 Hawkeyes − has sparked an interesting discussion. 

Given the growing parity and interest in women’s college basketball and how common upsets are becoming, should extra security at games be considered? 

Clark’s collision with a fan comes less than 10 months after more than 10 million people tuned into the title match between LSU and Iowa last April. Places that already drew well, including South Carolina and Iowa, have seen a significant increase in attendance this season. LSU sold just south of 10,000 season tickets for 2023-24, almost doubling last season’s sales. Clark and her pursuit of the scoring record are responsible for selling out each of Iowa’s remaining road games. Attendance for the Ohio State-Iowa game was nearly three times what the Buckeyes typically draw and was their largest women’s basketball crowd ever.

Clark said she was OK after being taken out, but both she and Iowa coach Lisa Bluder expressed disappointment that Ohio State didn’t have a plan in place to help players safely exit the floor. (Buckeyes coach Kevin McGuff and athletic director Gene Smith apologized immediately after the collision.) The Big Ten told the Associated Press it would not fine Ohio State for the incident.

Thursday, No. 9 LSU hosts No. 1 South Carolina in a game expected to draw a sellout crown of more than 13,000 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Secondary market tickets close to the court are listed for upwards of $1,000 and have been priced as high as $4,000. College GameDay will be on site for its pregame show. Kim Mulkey, coach of the defending national champion Tigers, said she expects “one heck of an atmosphere.” But she didn’t express concern about a potential postgame celebration getting out of hand. 

“It wouldn’t matter,” she said of having extra security. “How much security do you have at a football game? It wouldn’t matter. How much security do you have at a football game and you can’t hold them back, right? One guy is going to hold back how many students? You can line (security) up like a bunch of soldiers, and at the end of the day, you’re outnumbered.” 

LSU will have ‘heightened sense of awareness’ as it hosts No. 1 South Carolina

Still, LSU is preparing for all possible scenarios should the Tigers hand South Carolina its first loss of the season. 

‘We do have a court-storming protocol that allows us to deploy security as needed to prevent fan access to the competition area,’ said Cody Worsham, LSU’s chief brand officer. ‘For bigger games, we certainly have a heightened sense of awareness on these matters.’

In women’s basketball, court-storming is a relatively new and rare phenomenon. Even when the top-ranked team in the country has been upset − as No. 1 South Carolina was in March 2022 when it lost to unranked Kentucky in the SEC tournament championship game − no fans rushed the floor. Ditto for when Sabrina Ionescu’s No. 2 Oregon squad was surprised on the road at No. 12 Oregon State in 2019, even though a capacity crowd of 9,301 watched the game. 

Most women’s teams do not travel with security, either, though there are exceptions. That’s the case with defending champion LSU, which boasts superstar NIL athletes like Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson, who is also a rapper. But for the Tigers, it’s more about being able to get from the bus to the arena than protecting athletes during a rowdy on-court celebration. (Across the SEC, visiting women’s basketball teams are assigned a police officer who stays with the team or head coach the entire time they’re in the building.)

LSU could be hit in pocketbook if takes down No. 1

LSU stands to face monetary punishment should fans rush the court Thursday. The league mandates a $100,000 fine if spectators leave the stands, and that’s for the first infraction. The penalties increase to $250,00 and $500,000 for a second and third violation.

Should there be a court storming, the scene won’t be unfamiliar to South Carolina. The school was hit with a $100,000 fine Wednesday, one day after fans joined the on-court celebration following its men’s team posting an upset of No. 6 Kentucky with women’s coach Dawn Staley in attendance.

Staley didn’t take part in the festivities, choosing to enjoy the scene from afar.

‘It looked a little too dangerous for me,’ Staley said Wednesday. ‘That’s a young person’s thing. I was thinking ‘I want to’ but my body said ‘girl, please.’

‘I didn’t incite anything, but I didn’t mind seeing the students cheer for our men’s basketball team in the way that they did because it doesn’t happen often and we got to really, really celebrate it because we want more.’

Court-storming unlikely, nearly impossible, at NCAA events

Even the biggest upset of all time in women’s basketball − fourth-seeded Louisville’s 82-81 win over defending champion Baylor in the 2013 Sweet 16 − didn’t result in anyone rushing the court. But that’s probably because the NCAA was running it. 

According to Meghan Wright, a spokeswoman for the NCAA, schools hosting NCAA championship events are “expected to have security plans in place,” she told USA TODAY Sports via email. While the NCAA does not have a written court-storming best practices document, the governing body of college sports does provide experts if schools need assistance. 

At neutral sites − like the Final Four − the NCAA works with host venue security and local law enforcement to make a postgame plan. It helps, of course, that at neutral site events, there’s a mix of fan bases. Usually in court-storming, the arena is packed with just one passionate fan base. 

Mulkey said Wednesday she’d love for fans to be able to storm the court after a national championship win. And while she acknowledged that she’s doesn’t always know ‘how good or bad our fans are, I know they love us,’ she expects them, like everyone else, to follow the rules and stay off the floor, no matter the outcome. 

Follow Lindsay Schnell on social media: @Lindsay_Schnell

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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