Saturday, July 20, 2024

Cardoso's first career 3 saves South Carolina in the SEC Tournament

GREENVILLE, SC — South Carolina coach Dan Staley knew his first option, Te-Hina Paopao, would be bottled-up by Tennessee for a game-winning, outside shot.

And so he demands his frontman and rebounder Camila Cardoso do what she's been reluctant to do her entire career: “Shoot it!”

The No. 1 seed came away with a 74-73 victory over the Lady Vols in the Southeastern Conference semifinals on Saturday. 1 Cardoso finally heard desperation for his first 3-pointer that would restore South Carolina's perfect season.

“I added a few more words that I can't mention,” Staley said of his order to Cardoso, a 6-foot-7 forward who had previously only attempted one long-range shot in his career as a Syracuse freshman.

“Coach told Camila to shoot the ball and Camila was shooting the ball with confidence,” said point guard Raven Johnson, who went to Cardoso at the top of the key.

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

“I knew with the players that we had on the floor, Camilla was the only person that was open,” Staley said. “So I told Raven (Johnson) to get the ball to Camila. And I told Camila, 'Hey, pass it to Bobo,' and then at the last second, I said, 'Camila, shoot it.'”

The campus is just 100 miles from the Greenville arena — where Cardoso was mobbed by his jubilant teammates as the large South Carolina crowd cheered for the celebration.

“I was very happy that my teammates believed in me,” Cardoso said. “I didn't have my best game all night. I was glad I made the shot and got them to the finals.”

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Cardoso was playing in front of her mom and sister, who came from Brazil to celebrate Senior Day with her last weekend. This week will be his first chance to see him play in person since he left the country at age 15.

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

Rickia Jackson finished with 22 points and 19 over the final two quarters as Tennessee pulled away 35-12 late in the second quarter. Her layup with 25 seconds left gave the Lady Vols their first lead of the game.

The Lady Vols had a 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 hate it for them,” Tennessee coach Kelly Harper said, on the verge of tears, talking about the loss.

South Carolina recovered and, with no timeouts, went upstairs. Still not in the free throw bonus, Tennessee stunned South Carolina with 1.1 seconds left near midcourt with a nice finish.

Jewel Spear added 21 points for the Lady Vols.

It couldn't have gotten off to a better start for South Carolina — or worse for the Lady Vols.

The Gamecocks opened up a 13-0 lead as Tennessee struggled to get anything going, missing its first 10 shots. South Carolina, behind the dynamic Fulvili, eventually led 35-12 and looked like it would put things away at halftime.

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But the Lady Vols finished the second quarter on an 11-1 run to cut a 23-point deficit to 36-23 at halftime.

Big picture

Tennessee: Heartbreaking season for the Lady Vols, who gave South Carolina everything they had in three meetings all season, but lost it all. Tennessee needs overtime to overcome this disappointing result.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks haven't faced a challenge like this all season, and it's paying off as they approach their championship goals.

Alia's influence

Staley, South Carolina, was honored as the WNBA Rookie of the Year with her daughter, Aliyah Boston's mother, Cleonie, delivering her positive, faith-based message to GameCox. Staley said Cleon Boston's influence helped keep his young team going through tough times like this.

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