How South Carolina women’s basketball continues to defy logic, remain undefeated

A popular theory among South Carolina fans is that a loss would be good for this basketball team. To take the pressure off. Last time USC entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated, it lost in the Final Four.

Maybe the zero in the loss column became too heavy to bear. Had that team lost at least once during the regular season or conference tournament, maybe it would’ve had the resolve to outlast Iowa. Sure, that’s a logical line of thinking.

But the 2023-24 Gamecocks (31-0) defy logic. From the way they’ve exceeded internal and external expectations all season to their improbable victory Saturday over Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals courtesy of center Kamilla Cardoso’s first career 3-pointer — a shot that left her fingertips with 0.5 seconds on the game clock at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.


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Forget a loss. If it’s a setback you seek, Saturday’s scar stung No. 1 South Carolina enough.

“We don’t ever want to feel like that again,” sophomore Chloe Kitts told The State after USC’s brush with defeat.

“We don’t ever want the game to get that close. We were on the bench like, ‘Wow, we just lost.’ And thank God we didn’t, thanks to Kamilla. She got us the win. And that just feels great. But we don’t ever want to feel like that again.”

Sania Feagin was shivering in her corner of the locker room, feeling the chill as her adrenaline wore off. She and the rest of the team ran Cardoso down after she banked in a literal last-second game-winner, piling one on top of the other, singing Cardoso’s praises with a few celebratory expletives sprinkled throughout.

Often brought up as a strike against them (particularly to explain away award season snubs), the Gamecocks don’t have one takeover player. An ace who’s always good for 30 points and a victory.

But they don’t need one. Everybody gets a turn. At UNC and LSU, it was Bree Hall. At Duke, it was MiLaysia Fulwiley. Saturday, it was Cardoso. “I just told Raven to throw it high to Kamilla,” coach Dawn Staley said after the game, describing the final play, and have “Kamilla pass it to (Te-Hina) Pao(pao).


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I’m like, ‘No, they’re not going to let Pao get any daylight at the end.’ I yelled at Kamilla, said, ‘Shoot it.’” Staley ended with a coy smile: “I added some more words to that, but I can’t say it right here.”

Down two points with 1.1 second remaining, point guard Raven Johnson flashed back to the Final Four heartbreak in Dallas. Only a handful on South Carolina’s current roster know what heartbreak feels like. The rest are too young.

The only thing they know about losing is that they hate it. Staley doesn’t always get it. How her team finds a way.

“They’re young and carefree,” she said Saturday. Preparation is a hallmark of Staley’s coaching style. Always has been. Players from her 2008-09 team recall five- and six-page scouting reports for every opponent, culminating in a pregame pop quiz in the locker room.

Preparation is not a hallmark of Staley’s 2023-24 team. Communication, friendship and being inexplicably clutch is what these Gamecocks are about.

While opposing teams warm up with stiff upper lips and hearts set on spoiling USC’s undefeated season, the women in garnet and black are throwing up shots with huge smiles on their faces and minds set on having fun.

“We bond outside of basketball so we can connect well during basketball,” Feagin told The State. “We all love the game.” And it loves them back.





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