😂 Cardoso Does The Macarena With Raven Johnson | NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, South Carolina vs Indiana

Cardoso Does The Macarena With Raven Johnson | NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, South Carolina vs Indiana.

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The years have revealed the undefeated, top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks as a metronome: They have appeared in 11 Sweet 16s under Coach Dawn Staley, including 10 consecutive; amassed a 106-3 record over the past three seasons; and reigned atop the AP poll more than 80 times. Just reliably excellent. Come basketball season, you can set your watch to their dominance.

And yet, one day into the NCAA regional in Upstate New York, the Gamecocks have also proved mortal.

Only nine teams in Division I women’s basketball history have completed a season without a loss.

South Carolina is trying to become the 10th. But on their way to legendary status, the Gamecocks had to make a stop inside a generically named stadium and deal with the Indiana Hoosiers, who were supposed to be happy just to be on the same floor with these basketball icons.

Thanks to a clutch three-pointer from impenetrably confident sophomore Raven Johnson, then a display of their patented defense, South Carolina escaped MVP Arena with a 79-75 win.

South Carolina had to catch itself from stumbling before clinching a spot opposite its latest Elite Eight opponent, Oregon State, on Sunday. Maybe the Gamecocks are more approachable now after their second close call in March, but they’re not at all insecure.

“We have theee Dawn Staley,” Johnson said. “When you have a coach like that, how can you sweat? If she don’t sweat, you don’t sweat.”

And metronomes, they don’t sweat. That’s not to say the Gamecocks are robotic or boring. Even if they are almost Spursian, in a way. The San Antonio Spurs, during the late ’90s and throughout the next decade, provided the template for what consistent high-quality basketball should look like.

They had (and have) a longtime coach in Gregg Popovich, a mastermind in basketball who is unafraid to speak on societal issues. South Carolina has theee Dawn Staley, a vocal advocate for her players and a swaggy technician, drawing up brilliant ATO plays while wearing designer LV.

San Antonio’s dynasty was short on the flash factor as the team centered around fundamentally sound big men, with David Robinson and Tim Duncan. South Carolina’s program won two titles behind its shutdown defense and the interior play of A’ja Wilson (2017) and Aliyah Boston (2022).

Who cares about entertaining the crowd with slick perimeter wings when the tick, tock, tick, tock of winning should appease all fans — as it did in San Antonio and as it does in Columbia, S.C.

Still, this 2023-24 team hasn’t been typical for the Gamecocks. Even with 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso — who made 10 of her 12 close-range shots for 22 points Friday — South Carolina shouldn’t be defined merely by its defense or post play. The team now has floor spacers such as Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao, junior Bree Hall, freshman sensation MiLaysia Fulwiley and Johnson, the hero of the night.

South Carolina led 56-34 early in the third quarter, and a blowout seemed all but certain. Ahead of the fourth quarter, when the Gamecocks returned to the court, a dance party broke out. The arena sound system played the hits — from 20 years ago — so when Cardoso, Johnson and Bree Hall heard “Macarena,” they couldn’t help but to smile and do the moves. Loose and confident. Too loose, however.

“I thought [Indiana] did a good job of keeping us off balance. I thought in the third and fourth quarters we took some ill-advised shots, and that’s been the tendency of our young basketball team is when we’re able to build a lead, they pretty much think any shot is a good shot,”

Staley said. “I thought today we took some bad shots that led to some easy buckets for them. We just have to control those situations a little bit better.”

South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley has assembled another juggernaut. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

A big advantage the Hoosiers had already trimmed to 10 points entering the final quarter suddenly didn’t seem so safe. With about a minute remaining in the game, Cardoso took a defensive gamble and tried to steal an entry pass to Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes. Cardoso couldn’t get to the ball in time, and once she abandoned her presence in the post, Holmes breezed inside for a layup to cut the Hoosiers’ deficit to 74-72.

“We won the second half. We won the third quarter. We won the fourth quarter,” Indiana Coach Teri Moren said, reflecting on the changing tide. “Felt like the momentum was definitely on our side throughout.”

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