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Cardoso’s first-ever 3 gives No. 1 South Carolina 74-73 win over Lady Vols
Women's Basketball  . 

Cardoso’s first-ever 3 gives No. 1 South Carolina 74-73 win over Lady Vols

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley knew her first option for a game-winning, outside shot, Te-Hina Paopao, would be bottled up by Tennessee.

So she demanded from the sideline her leading scorer and rebounder, Kamilla Cardoso, do what she’d been reluctant to her whole career: “Shoot it!”

Cardoso finally listened, banking home a desperation shot at the buzzer for her first-ever 3-pointer to rescue No. 1 South Carolina’s perfect season with a 74-73 win over the Lady Vols in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals on Saturday.

“I added a couple more words that I can’t mention,” Staley said about her order to Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 forward who had only attempted one long-range shot in her career as a Syracuse freshman before this.

“Coach told Kamilla to shoot the ball and Kamilla shoots the ball with confidence,” said point guard Raven Johnson, who passed in to Cardoso at the top of the key.

The Gamecocks (31-0) had blown a 23-point lead and trailed the Lady Vols (19-12) 73-71 with 1.1 seconds left.

“I knew with the players we had on the floor, pretty much the only person who was going to be open was Kamilla,” Staley said. “So I just told Raven (Johnson) to get the ball to Kamilla. And I told Kamilla, ‘Hey, pass it to (Te-Hina) Paopao,’ and then at the last second I was like, ‘Kamilla, shoot it.’”

Cardoso was mobbed by her joyous teammates as the large South Carolina crowd — the campus is only about a 100-mile drive from the Greenville arena — cheered in celebration.

“I was very happy my teammates believed in me,” Cardoso said. “I didn’t have best game I could have, off all night. I was happy I could make the shot and take them to the finals.”

Cardoso was playing in front of her mom and sister who came up from Brazil to celebrate senior day with her last weekend. This week was their first chance to see her play in person since she left the country at age 15.

The Gamecocks advance to their ninth tournament final in the past 10 seasons and will look for their eighth title in that span against either No. 8 LSU or Mississippi.

Rickea Jackson ended with 22 points, 19 in the final two quarters as Tennessee fought back from 35-12 down late in the second quarter. Her putback with 25 seconds left gave the Lady Vols their first lead of the game.

The Lady Vols had the chance to extend the lead with three seconds left, but Jasmine Powell, a 78% free throw shooter, missed both attempts to give South Carolina a chance.

“I just hate that for them,” said Tennessee coach Kellie Harper, on the verge of tears talking about the loss.

South Carolina secured the rebound and with no timeouts left, went up the floor. Tennessee, which wasn’t in the free throw bonus yet, fouled South Carolina near midcourt with 1.1 seconds left setting up the fantastic finish.

Jewel Spear added 21 points for the Lady Vols.

Things could not have started any better for South Carolina — or any worse for the Lady Vols.

The Gamecocks opened up a 13-0 lead while Tennessee struggled to hit anything, missing its first 10 shots. South Carolina, behind the dynamic Fulwiley, eventually led 35-12 and looked it would put things away by halftime.

  • Kamilla Cardoso hit her first career 3-pointer with one second remaining in the game to give the Gamecocks the 74-73 win, in addition to finishing with a team-high 13 points and three blocks.
  • South Carolina advances to its fifth-straight SEC Tournament title game, winning three of its previous four appearances, including in 2023.
  • MiLaysia Fulwiley also led with 13 points, tallying nine of them in the first half, including back-to-back layups that gave South Carolina its largest lead at 23.
  • Raven Johnson had her 13th game in double figures, putting up seven of her 11 points in the second half highlighted by a 3 that put the Gamecocks back on top by 12.
  • Tessa Johnson got hot in the second quarter, scoring six of her eight points in an 8-2 run that opened up the period.
  • Chloe Kitts went a perfect 3-for-3 in the third quarter to grab six of her eight points and give South Carolina a 10-point lead with under 20 seconds left in the period.