Final word from Dawn Staley on Kamilla Cardoso as NCAA Tournament begins

Kamilla Cardoso will watch No. 1 South Carolina’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Presbyterian from the locker room Friday, coach Dawn Staley told local media Thursday.

Cardoso is serving a one-game suspension after she was ejected from the SEC Championship game for fighting on March 10. As part of her punishment, she cannot play against the Blue Hose, participate in pregame warmups nor sit on USC’s bench.

Staley said Thursday that she understood why Cardoso was being penalized in such a way, but also shared concerns over the lack of consequences for other athletes involved in the scuffle.

“It does have the appearance of just Kamilla takes the fall for it,” Staley said in her pre-tournament press conference. “Did she deserve it? Yes. She deserved to be disqualified.

No doubt about it. But there were some other parties that should have been penalized. I don’t know penalized to the point of disqualification, but definitely ejection for that particular game.

I know how they came … well, they assessed it, and if they had to do our all over again I do think they would come up with something different.

“But it leaves Kamilla hanging.”

After nearly four quarters of physical basketball by both LSU and South Carolina and inconsistent officiating, a scuffle broke out with about two minutes remaining in the conference championship game at Greenville’s Bon Secours Arena.

Kamilla Cardoso - Wikipedia

LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson fouled South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley after she stole the ball for USC. After the play ended, Gamecock Ashlyn Watkins went over toward Johnson, who threw an elbow at her. Cardoso then ran over to Johnson and shoved her to the ground.

Both benches cleared (except for South Carolina’s Sania Feagin and Te-Hina Paopao). Johnson’s brother Trayron Milton left the stands and jumped over the scorer’s table onto the court. Police then escorted him off the floor in handcuffs and later arrested him on charges of disorderly conduct and assault and battery.

Cardoso was suspended because she was ejected from the game for fighting, per NCAA rules. South Carolina’s and LSU’s bench players (except for Feagin and Paopao) were also ejected for leaving the bench area.

In the nearly two weeks since that game, Cardoso’s name has been all over sports media. Her teammate Raven Johnson said Cardoso hasn’t let the situation get to her, laughing it off and joking about her newfound popularity.

Cardoso said she’s been able to lean on her teammates, coaches and the South Carolina fans (affectionately referred to as FAMS).

The center’s absence is unlikely to have much of an impact on South Carolina’s opening game, though, despite the fact that she leads in team in scoring (14 PPG) and rebounds (9.5 RPG).

The Gamecocks have won their last five first-round games by an average of 29.8 points. Cardoso also missed four games during the regular season, but South Carolina managed to win without her en route to the second undefeated regular season in program history.

Cardoso’s advice to the team before they’re reunited in the second round: “Just stay focused, stay composed and do us. But I feel like this team, they are built for the moment.

Every single one of these girls, they are built for this moment. And I am sure they are ready to go out there and just ball out.”

Watkins started in Cardoso’s place during the regular season, and will likely start in her place Friday. Watkins is averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds her game.

South Carolina WBB’s first-round game

Who: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 16 Presbyterian

When: Friday, 2 p.m.

TV/Streaming: ESPN

This story was originally published March 21, 2024, 1:56 PM.

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