No. 1 South Carolina WBB caps perfect regular season with win over Tennessee

Payton Titus, The State on

Published in Basketball

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Perfection (again).

South Carolina women’s basketball solidified its second consecutive undefeated regular season Sunday with a 76-68 win over Tennessee at Colonial Life Arena. The victory extended USC’s program-record home win streak to 57.

“I am super proud of them,” coach Dawn Staley said. “Like, super proud. If you compare the undefeated season from last year to this year, it’s so much different. Yet we end up in the same place. And it doesn’t make me any more or less proud.”

Staley employed a different starting five than expected: stalwarts Kamilla Cardoso, Te-Hina Paopao and Bree Hall were joined by Sania Feagin (making her second consecutive and career start) and MiLaysia Fulwiley (making her third career start).

Chloe Kitts and Raven Johnson usually start. Johnson entered the game about halfway through the first quarter. Kitts followed about three minutes later. Staley said after the game that Johnson and Kitts broke a minor team rule, but didn’t specify either’s disgression.

Five Gamecocks scored in double figures: Cardoso (18 points plus 13 rebounds for her 13th double-double of the season), Hall (13), Paopao (14), Fulwiley (13) and Ashlyn Watkins (13).

Next up: the SEC Tournament. South Carolina’s first game is Friday, having secured a double bye after winning the SEC regular-season title earlier this month. Its opponent is still to be determined. USC (29-0, 16-0 SEC) will play the winner of Thursday’s game versus the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds.

Kamilla Cardoso, Te-Hina Paopao show out on Senior Day

In what could have been their final regular-season home game with the Gamecocks, Cardoso and Paopao each put on a stellar performance.

Cardoso finished the first half just one rebound shy of a double-double (14 points, nine boards). She fought Tennessee’s talented post players Rickea Jackson and Tamari Key for tough baskets and trips to the free throw line. A Cardoso and-1 sent all five Gamecocks on the bench to their feet. They flexed their arms by the sides to celebrate their teammates’ assertiveness at the rim.

But Tennessee quieted Cardoso in the third quarter, preventing her from scoring any points during that time. She also had to sit out some of the fourth quarter after picking up her fourth foul at the 7:58 mark and fouling out with 2:45 remaining.

“She gave us what she gave us, and we don’t win the game without her contributions,” Staley said.

Paopao sank USC’s first two 3-pointers of the game Sunday, prompting her teammates on the bench to jump up and put three fingers to the sky. She had an up-and-under layup in the third quarter to extend the Gamecocks’ lead to 13 points — its largest of the contest.

The senior guard ended the day with 14 points.


South Carolina struggles to make shots

South Carolina had back-to-back hot shooting starts games on the road at Kentucky and Arkansas (making over 61% of attempts in each opening period) heading into Sunday’s game. That streak did not follow the Gamecocks home.

They shot 34.8% in the first quarter, 35.3% in the second quarter and made two shots (in 11 tries) in the first five minutes of the second half. USC ended the game having shot 33.3% from the field, including 25% from 3 and 41.6% on layups.

Gamecocks grind it out in the paint

Per usual, South Carolina outrebounded its opponent Sunday, but not by a huge margin.

The Gamecocks snagged 24 rebounds (10 offensive) to the Lady Vols’ 18 (four offensive) in the first half. USC converted its 10 offensive rebounds to nine points during that time. South Carolina ended the day with 57 rebounds (to Tennessee’s 41) and 14 second-chance points (to UT’s 15).

Three of USC’s post players — Kitts, Watkins and Sania Feagin — picked up two fouls each halfway through the second quarter leading to a four-guard lineup. Cardoso fouled out with just under three minutes left in the game. Tennessee’s Jackson found ways to exploit smaller South Carolina lineups. She ended the game with 29 points.

“We’ve been playing with it for a little bit, right before we knew that Kamilla was going to be away with her Brazilian team,” Staley said of the four-guard lineup. “Didn’t feel real good about it. But I thought there was some familiarity to it because we’ve been trying to do it. It helped us. They matched up the way we needed to match up. Because we needed Breezy on Rickea. Rickea pretty much had her way with with accumulating fouls on us.”

USC managed to outscore UT in the paint 38-28. Heading into Sunday’s contest, The Gamecocks outscored their opponents in that region of the court by an average of 22.5 points per SEC game.

Next South Carolina basketball game

Who: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 8 or No. 9 seed

When: Friday, noon

Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina

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