Sparks fly as South Carolina women defeat LSU

Benches cleared and six players were ejected while South Carolina's top-ranked and unbeaten squad defeated defending national champion LSU Sunday.



March 11, 2024 - 2:58 PM

South Carolina's Kamilla Cardoso (10) comes off the court in the aftermath of an altercation on court with LSU players during the second half in the SEC Tournament Championship game at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, on Sunday, March 10, 2024. Photo by Tracy Glantz/The State/TNS

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina forward Kamilla Cardoso was one of six players ejected from the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game after she shoved LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson to the floor late in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Gamecocks guard MiLaysia Fulwiley had stolen the ball from Johnson, who wrapped her up and was called for an intentional foul. Johnson bumped South Carolina’s Ashlyn Watkins while heading to her bench, and then the 6-foot-7 Cardoso rushed in and pushed the 5-10 Johnson to the ground.

In all, four South Carolina players were ejected and the Gamecocks had six remaining. LSU was left with only five players after two were disqualified. The top-ranked Gamecocks held on to beat No. 8 LSU 79-72.

“For us playing a part in that, that’s not who we are,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “That’s not what we’re about.”

Cardoso issued an apology on social media shortly after the game, and her remaining teammates celebrated the championship without her.

“My behavior was not representative of who I am as a person or the South Carolina program, and I deeply regret any discomfort or inconvenience it may have caused,” Cardoso posted on X. “I take full responsibility for my actions and assure you that I am committed to conducting myself with the utmost respect and sportsmanship in the future.”

After Cardoso shoved Johnson, a man identified on the ESPN telecast as Johnson’s brother jumped over the scorer’s table onto the court and briefly made contact with Cardoso before being escorted away by police officers.

Under NCAA rules, Cardoso will be suspended for the Gamecocks’ next game, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, because she was ejected for fighting. South Carolina (32-0), the only undefeated team in Division I, is all but certain to be the tournament’s top overall seed and will play the first two rounds on its home court.

Cardoso, a Brazilian who averaged 14.2 points and 9.6 rebounds this season, is expected to be one of the top picks in next month’s WNBA draft.

The SEC, against the usual practice at its postseason tournaments, closed both locker rooms to reporters. The other players ejected — all for leaving the bench area — were South Carolina’s Chloe Kitts, Tessa Johnson and Sakima Walker, and LSU’s Aalyah Del Rosario and Janae Kent. They will be eligible to play in their teams’ next games under NCAA rules because they did not participate in the fight.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey said Johnson was smart to stop Fulwiley, who would’ve had an uncontested layup otherwise. Mulkey added that she understood emotions getting high at such a critical juncture of the game.

“It’s ugly, it’s not good, no one wants to be a part of that,” she said. “But I’ll tell you this, I wish (Cardoso) would’ve pushed Angel Reese. If you’re 6-8, don’t push somebody that little. That was uncalled for in my opinion. Let those two girls who were jawing, let them go at it.”

LSU is the defending national champion but has lost 16 straight to SEC rival South Carolina, and the title game was highly physical even before the fracas.

Staley, who was screaming towards the LSU bench during the incident, apologized afterward to the crowd on behalf of the ejected players, saying their emotions got the better of them.

“I know it didn’t come from an ugly place,” Staley said.