March Madness: South Carolina powers through Kamilla Cardoso injury scare to dominate NC State in Final Four

March Madness: South Carolina powers through Kamilla Cardoso injury scare to dominate NC State in Final Four

South Carolina’s Raven Johnson (center) and Kamilla Cardoso (right) celebrate against NC State on Friday in Cleveland. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

No. 1 South Carolina is still undefeated and advancing to the NCAA tournament championship game after a 78-59 win over No. 3 NC State on Friday.

Projected WNBA lottery pick Kamilla Cardoso led the Gamecocks with 22 points and 11 rebounds despite an injury scare in the second quarter. Sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins contributed a whopping 20 rebounds from the bench.

NC State's story this season has been all about exceeding expectations, and that trend continued through the first half of the team's Final Four matchup with the Gamecocks. Twenty minutes into Friday's game, the Wolfpack showcased how they were able to upset No. 2 seed Stanford and No. 1 seed Texas in the tournament.

The Wolfpack were able to capitalize on South Carolina's mistakes early, ending the first quarter tied 16-16. While South Carolina guard Te-Hina Pao Pao opened the contest with a jumper to kickstart a 5-0 run, the first quarter featured a few uncharacteristic plays for the Gamecocks. One of those moments included a turnover by junior Sania Feagin that turned into a layup for Wolfpack guard Aziaha James and 16-13 lead for NC State. James led the Wolfpack with 10 points and a rebound through the quarter, and she came out of the loss with a team-leading 20 points.

South Carolina had 10 turnovers to NC State's seven through the second quarter, scraping out a 32-31 lead entering halftime. But protecting the ball wasn't the biggest concern during the break, as Cardoso hit the hardwood after an attempted spin move late in the second. Limping heavily, she had to commit a foul so that she could exit the game.

As Cardoso looked in pain as a trainer escorted her back into the locker room, teammate Raven Johnson told ESPN's Holly Rowe during a halftime interview that she was confident the 6-foot-7 center would return to the game. Once the third quarter began, there Cardoso was back with a newly added black sleeve protecting her leg.

It didn't take long for Cardoso to prove that she was OK. NC State had to call a timeout a little more than 90 seconds into the third as the Gamecocks' strong opening to the quarter was underlined by back-to-back layups from Cardoso to give the Gamecocks a 48-36 lead.

NC State didn't find its footing through the remainder of the third, and South Carolina outscored the team 29-6 in the period. The Gamecocks didn't need to rely on Cardoso's power in the paint once they broke open the lead, as junior guard Bree Hall and Pao Pao recorded back-to-back 3-pointers to end the quarter.

South Carolina didn't need to push as hard in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points compared to NC State's 22. When the final buzzer sounded, the Gamecocks' ticket to the title game was punched.

The team will look to complete a perfect season against the winner of UConn vs. Iowa. There's a storied rematch at stake, as a very different undefeated South Carolina team was ousted from the Final Four by Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes last year.


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