South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso shoves LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson, is ejected with 5 other players

South Carolina guard Te-Hina Paopao is the lone player on the bench after players were ejected after an altercation during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against LSU at the Southeastern Conference women's tournament final Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

South Carolina guard Te-Hina Paopao is the lone player on the bench after players were ejected after an altercation during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against LSU at the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament final Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

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.

The Gamecocks led 73-66 with 2:08 to play when the dustup took place, and the game was delayed for about 15 minutes while officials reviewed video.

Cardoso, South Carolina’s leading scorer and rebounder, hit the game-winning 3-pointer, her first as a college player, with 1.1 seconds to play on Saturday in South Carolina’s 74-73 semifinals win over Tennessee.

Cardoso had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes against LSU.

Staley said her young team — the Gamecocks lost seven seniors from a group that reached the past three Final Fours and won the national title in 2022 — is a tightknit group that sticks up for each other.

“That would have never happened with last year’s team, because they would have been so political about it,” Staley said. “Aliyah (Boston, the WNBA rookie of the year) probably would have been the referee and like, ‘No, don’t do that.’ And then you’ve got this team, they’re protectors.”

Staley said that’s an admirable quality, but her team needs a reminder about when to pull back before things get out of hand.

“I hope this is the last of the last,” Staley said.

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball

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