Why did Te-Hina Paopao transfer to South Carolina from Oregon? Gamecocks sharpshooter key in Sweet 16 run so far

South Carolina women’s basketball was close to the unimaginable last season: Another national championship and an undefeated season — It just hit the roadblock that is Caitlin Clark.

The Gamecocks then lost all five of their starters, leaving Dawn Staley with a need to go out and find a veteran presence to pair with the returners she had.

Enter Te-Hina Paopao, a transfer from Oregon who didn’t look to be ending up in Columbia this time last year. That was until Staley called her and pitched her case.

One year later, South Carolina hasn’t looked one beat off from last year’s team as Paopao has not only become a vital part of Staley’s offense —one that struggled mightily from beyond the arc last season — but a reason why the Gamecocks are playing in their 10th straight Sweet 16 since 2014 on Friday against 4 seed Indiana at 5 p.m. ET in Albany, New York. The NCAA Tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paopao now looks to help South Carolina get over the finish line and win that national championship, which would mark just the 10th time — and first since UConn in 2016 team — a team goes undefeated for an entire season in NCAA women’s basketball history.

Here’s a look back at Paopao’s transfer from Oregon to play for Staley and the Gamecocks:

Why did Te-Hina Paopao transfer to South Carolina from Oregon?

Before playing for South Carolina, Paopao played three seasons for Oregon, where she was an All-Pac 12 first-team selection as a freshman and sophomore.

Paopao was part of a star-studded 2020 recruitment for the Ducks, one that also featured Sydney Parrish, Kylee Watson, Maddie Scherr and Angela Dugalic. All five have now transferred from Oregon.

At Oregon last year, Paopao was one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters as she connected on 42.4% of her shots from beyond the arc and averaged 2.3 triples per game. She averaged 13.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season, helping the Ducks earn a spot in the WNIT quarterfinals.

Following her transfer to South Carolina, Paopao told the Greenville News last May that she was “surprised” to see Staley and South Carolina were interested in her when she entered the transfer portal and that her high school coach, Terri Bamford, was the one who told her the Gamecocks were calling to hopefully bring her to Columbia. She was the No. 7-ranked transfer according to ESPN.

“[B]lessed & excited for the journey ahead,” Paopao wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter) when she committed to the Gamecocks last May. “[G]o gamecocks!”

Paopao’s addition to the Gamecocks was a big one as South Carolina lost all five starters — including the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft Aliyah Boston — from last year (Kamila Cardoso was not a starter for the Gamecocks last season).

Te-Hina Paopao recruit rankings

Paopao was a five-star recruit and the No. 11-ranked prospect in the Class of 2020, per her ESPN recruiting page. The Oceanside, California, native was a McDonald’s All-American honoree.

She was also the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of California in 2020 and led La Jolla Country Day to a No. 1 national ranking and a 32-1 record her senior year while averaging 22.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.

Te-Hina Paopao announces return to South Carolina

Back on March 4, three days before the start of the Gamecocks’ SEC Tournament championship run, Paopao announced that she would be utilizing her COVID-19 extra year of eligibility and returning to the Gamecocks next season — delaying her WNBA draft declaration one more season.

Te-Hina Paopoa stats

Here is a full year-by-year breakdown of Paopao’s career at Oregon and South Carolina:

2020-21 (Oregon): 10.2 points per game, 4.4 assists per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 43.3% shooting from the field and 80% shooting from the free-throw line
2021-22 (Oregon): 13.6 points per game, 4.0 assists per game, 3.3 assists per game, 38.7% shooting from the field and 87.0% shooting from the free-throw line
2022-23 (Oregon): 13.1 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game, 44.% shooting from the field and 88% shooting from the free-throw line
2023-24: 11.2 points per game, 3.8 assists per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, 46.7% shooting from the field and 86.2% shooting from the free-throw line

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