College Sports Sports

No. 1 South Carolina wins SEC Tournament over No. 8 LSU in game marred by skirmish and ejections



GREENVILLE, S.C. — It was a Southeastern Conference Tournament celebration like no other in South Carolina’s history: Six subdued players in white championship hats stood on the podium while the rest of their teammates remained in the locker room.

“It was heartbreaking,” guard Te-Hina Paopao said after the Gamecocks’ 79-72 victory over No. 8 LSU was marred by a fourth-quarter fight that led to South Carolina leading scorer and rebounder Kamilla Cardoso being ejected.

MiLaysia Fulwiley, a freshman named the tournament’s MVP, scored a career-high 24 points as South Carolina won its eighth tournament crown in the past 10 seasons.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Paopao said of missing Cardoso, Chloe Kitts, Tessa Johnson and Sakima Walker from the typically joyous postgame ceremony. “It was very hard for us, just a lot of emotions. We really wanted them to celebrate with us.”

Kitts, Johnson and Walker were ejected for leaving the bench during the incident, which was sparked with just over two minutes left when the 6-foot-7 Cardoso shoved 5-10 Flau’jae Johnson of LSU after an intentional foul.

Paopao said the whole group celebrated behind the scenes.

“We’re a team,” she said. “We’re going to bounce back from that learn from our mistakes.”

South Carolina (32-0) was ahead 73-66 when Fulwiley stole the ball from Johnson, who wrapped her up and was called for a foul. Johnson then bumped South Carolina’s Ashlyn Watkins, and the 6-foot-7 Cardoso rushed over and pushed the 5-10 Johnson to the ground. Players from both benches rushed toward them.

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said Johnson came up to her after the game to apologize, telling Staley, “I’m not that type of player.”

Staley, too, apologized on behalf of her program to the remaining South Carolina fans who filled the arena all weekend.

Staley’s assessment of the dustup?

“What you saw were two highly competitive teams and they did not handle it well,” she said.

The penalties, Staley said, were appropriate and she will spend time the next week or so before the NCAA Tournament reminding her players not to give in to emotions at heated times.

“People see that this is now part of our game,” she continued. “We have to fix it.”

Cardoso, too, apologized on social media after the game. The SEC did not open locker rooms to reporters.

“My behavior was not representative of who I am as a person or the South Carolina program, and I deeply regret any discomfort or inconvenience it may have caused. I take full responsibility for my actions,” she posted.

Cardoso and three of her teammates were ejected. Two LSU players — Aalyah Del Rosario and Janae Kent — who logged minutes in the game and came off the bench were also sent off. South Carolina was left with six players and the Tigers five.

Cardoso can be expected to miss time in the NCAA Tournament for her actions. The Gamecocks enter March Madness as the clear-cut No. 1 seed and the only undefeated team left in Division I, men or women. And they did it against the defending national champion Tigers and SEC player of the year Angel Reese.

It was South Carolina’s eighth tournament crown in the past 10 seasons and its 16th straight win over LSU (28-5), including all four meetings since Kim Mulkey became the Tigers’ coach three seasons ago.

Fulwiley, the speedy, flashy freshman, put on a show in her first SEC Tournament and was named its most valuable player. She hit two 3s as South Carolina used a 24-11 run between the first and second quarters to move in front for good.

LSU cut a 13-point deficit to 67-66 on Johnson’s foul shots with 4:36 to play. But Raven Johnson followed with a basket and Bree Hall added two more buckets to extend the margin.

Aneesah Morrow led LSU with 19 points. Reese had 15 points and 13 rebounds, her third straight double-double in the tournament.

Reese, who hasn’t won in four tries against South Carolina including as a sophomore at Maryland, believes the defending national champion Tigers are poised for another strong run in March Madness.

“We’re not scared of South Carolina,” she said. “Anybody who sees us should be scared. We’re in a good place right now.”

Mikayla Williams, the SEC freshman of the year, played for the first time since injuring her foot four games ago. She scored two points in eight minutes.

The Tigers were without Last-Tear Poa, the junior guard who had taken on Williams’ starting spot as the first-year player rested her foot. Poa suffered a concussion late in LSU’s semifinal win over Mississippi on Saturday night when her head hit the floor. She needed a stretcher to leave the court and was taken to a hospital and released Saturday night.

Big picture

LSU: The Tigers have to be tired of coming up second to South Carolina. They’ve finished behind them in the standings in each of Mulkey’s three seasons now have lost the SEC Tournament to the Gamecocks. Perhaps they’ll get another crack at them in the NCAA Tournament.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks continue to excel despite that, as coach Dawn Staley says, they don’t know what they don’t know. They are filled with confidence and can be expected to show that in the NCAA Tournament.



Pete Iacobelli , 2024-03-11 12:07:43

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