Kamilla Cardoso leads No. 1 South Carolina to 79-68 victory over Texas A&M in SEC Tournament

South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso shoots over Texas A&M forward Lauren Ware during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference women's tournament Friday, March 8, 2024, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso shoots over Texas A&M forward Lauren Ware during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament Friday, March 8, 2024, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley spent all season teaching her young, undefeated team. Those lessons, she stressed, must carry into the SEC Tournament if the top-ranked Gamecocks hope to achieve their championship goals.

Kamilla Cardoso scored 17 points and Tessa Johnson 13 as South Carolina beat ninth-seeded Texas A&M 79-68 Friday at the SEC Tournament and reached 30 wins for a third straight season.

The Gamecocks (30-0) will play either fourth-seed Alabama or fifth-seed Tennessee in Saturday’s semifinals.

It was no walkover for usually sharp South Carolina. The team had 10 turnovers in the first quarter and finished with a season-worst 24. The offense took a bit to warm up after nearly a week off since its last game, and Staley grew visibly frustrated as the period wore on.

“I don’t think they met the moment,” Staley said.

Aicha Coulibaly had a career-high 32 points, 26 in the second half, to lead Texas A&M (19-12), which lost its fifth straight to South Carolina.

After getting pushed at times by the Aggies, the Gamecocks responded with Cardoso dominating down low and the team relying on defense to open up a 14-point lead in the third quarter.

South Carolina leads the SEC in defense and held the Aggies to 30% on 3-pointers (6 of 20) and forced 14 turnovers.

“Yes, we won a lot of basketball games, but there are a lot of things we need to work on, a lot of deficiencies that we need to work on,” Staley said. “This team has responded time in and time out, and they’re going to have to respond now that’s it’s win or go home situation.”

The Aggies briefly pulled ahead 17-16 on Lauren Ware’s jumper. But behind Johnson’s seven points, South Carolina went on a 17-5 run for a 33-22 lead at the break.

“We were just playing basketball,” said Johnson, a freshman. “It wasn’t the greatest basketball, but we were just finding our teammates.”

The Aggies came within 62-53 early in the fourth quarter. But Cardoso hit two free throws and Te-Hina Paopao, who finished with eight points, made a 3-pointer to restore the large lead.

Coulibaly said the team showed it deserved to be an NCAA Tournament team by defeating eighth-seeded Mississippi State here Thursday and not backing down against the league’s regular-season champions.

“I feel like our chemistry is really good right now,” she said. “We’ve just got to build off of that.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M: The Aggies had a strong game plan to disrupt South Carolina’s flow on offense that worked during the first 20 minutes. But the Gamecocks had too much speed, strength and length and pulled away for the victory.

South Carolina: Staley can’t be happy with the early miscues. But the Gamecocks have managed to win throughout the season, despite slow starts. The job will certainly get tougher in the SEC Tournament.

JOHNSON’S BLOCK

Tessa Johnson had her first college block in her first postseason game at South Carolina. Johnson blocked Sole Williams’ attempt at a layup. When asked about it, Staley joked, “What block?” before going on about the freshman’s intelligence and awareness on the court that puts her in good positions to make defensive plays.

UP NEXT

Texas A&M: Awaits its postseason selection.

South Carolina: Advances to play Alabama or Tennessee in Saturday’s semifinals.

___

Get alerts and updates on AP Top 25 basketball throughout the season. Sign up here ___ AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball

Sports Headlines

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed AP

Trending on NewsNation