Kamilla Cardoso’s game-winning 3 leads No. 1 South Carolina past Tennessee


Kamilla Cardoso banked in her first-ever 3-pointer at the buzzer and rescued No. 1 South Carolina‘s perfect season with a 74-73 victory over Tennessee at the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals on Saturday.

The Gamecocks (31-0) had blown a 23-point lead and trailed the Lady Vols (19-12) 73-71 with 1.1 seconds left. But Raven Johnson‘s pass found an open Cardoso at the top of the key and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder calmly shot it off glass and in.

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

After Johnson missed a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left, Jasmine Powell got the rebound and was fouled. She missed both free throws and with no timeouts left, South Carolina 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.

Jewell 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 eventually led 35-12 and looked like it would put things away by halftime.

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

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: Heartbreak time for the Lady Vols, who had given South Carolina everything it had in three meetings all season yet lost them all. Tennessee needs the extra time off simply to get past this disappointing result.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks had not overcome a challenge like this all season, and it proved fruitful as they get closer to their championship goals.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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