South Carolina vs NC State highlights: Unbeaten Gamecocks march on

CLEVELAND – Behind 22 points from Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina topped NC State 78-59 Friday night in the first semifinal of the 2024 Women’s Final Four, sending the Gamecocks to the national championship game Sunday afternoon. They will face Caitlin Clark and Iowa, who fought off UConn in the second semifinal.

The win over the Wolfpack on Friday continues South Carolina’s revenge tour. After being heavily favored to win the title last season before being stunned by Iowa in the national semifinals — their first loss of the 2022-23 season — the Gamecocks are again undefeated and on the prowl for a title. It is South Carolina’s third national championship game under coach Dawn Staley; the Gamecocks have won the previous two, defeating Mississippi State in 2017 and Connecticut in 2022.  

USA TODAY Sports has all the highlights, scores, analysis and more from the Final Four in Cleveland.

Kamilla Cardoso formidable and immovable force for South Carolina, even when injured

The most impressive part of Kamilla Cardoso’s game isn’t the fact that she played through pain Friday night, injuring her knee late in the second half before returning to play the third quarter. It’s that she’s improved throughout the season. Even if she’s not at full strength, she’s a load on the block.

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Most people take noticeable jumps in skill, strength or athleticism in the offseason, when they can devote hours to their craft. It’s hard to work on your individual game during the season, when you’re juggling class, scouting reports and daily practice that’s usually focused on the team. But just a couple months ago, Cardoso had a bad habit of getting buried on the block. She was often rushed when she caught the ball and took terrible angles on shots, frequently shooting underneath the rim. 

Against NC State, she looked like a first-team All-American. She was patient and polished, taking her time to feel the defense before going the other way and scoring — often through a few sets of outstretched arms. For her size, she has impressive body control. And given her mobility, she could be making a case to move up to No. 2 in this month’s WNBA Draft. Read Lindsay Schnell’s full story from the Final Four.

South Carolina vs NC State highlights

Watch all the best moments from the Gamecocks’ win over the Wolfpack in the Final Four.

Kamilla Cardoso on her knee injury, what Final Four win means

South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso on when the knee injury happened and her status: ‘I just fell and then it started hurting a little bit. But I’m OK now, I seen the doctor, he said it was fine. He’s gotta do some treatment, ice it and stuff like that, and I’ll be ready for Sunday.’
Cardoso on how dominant South Carolina was: ‘I think when all of us zone in, nobody can stop us because we can get the post-ups, we can shoot the 3, we can drive, so when all of us are playing in the same rhythm, nobody can stop us.’
Cardoso on what the shot at a title means to the team: ‘Everything. I think we’ve been working really hard and this was the goal. Even though we didn’t set a goal for this season, this was the goal to make it to the championship and I’m just so proud of this team and so proud of everything that we accomplished was working so well up.’

Kamilla Cardoso is a ‘warrior,’ teammates say

South Carolina’s Te-Hina Paopao and Ashlyn Watkins were each asked about Kamilla Cardoso’s injury in their postgame news conference. They both called her a warrior, and Paopao said she thinks Cardoso will push through to play in the championship game Sunday.

Watkins: ‘I knew she was gonna be OK. She’s a warrior. She’s not gonna let a little injury like that affect her. She’s gonna push and she’s gonna be ready for Sunday.’
Paopao: ‘She’s a beautiful Brazilian warrior. She’s just awsome, man. She’s gonna play through some pain but that’s just who she is. She loves playing the game, she’s gonna push through that. Knowing that we got one more game, she’s definitely going to be OK.’

What Dawn Staley, Te-Hina Paopao, Ashlyn Watkins said after South Carolina’s win

Here’s what South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said to open her news conference after the Gamecocks’ win over NC State: ‘It was not an easy win, although the score may say differently.

‘I’m just proud of our team. To be able to play on this big stage and not play our best basketball in the first half and come back out and make some small adjustments and meet the emoment to get us to Sunday.’

Te-Hina Paopao on the win: ‘I’m so happy we made it. We have one game left, and we’re really excited for that.’
Ashlyn Watkins on her 20-rebound performance: ‘I think it was just doing whatever I could to help the team … I just went out there and played my best basketball.’
Watkins on their third quarter turnaround: ‘We wanted it. Our locker room talk, I knew we wanted it more.’
Paopao on their third quarter turnaround: ‘We just told each other that we’re good. … We locked in on both sides of the court.’

South Carolina headed to third national championship game

South Carolina moved a step closer to a second national championship in three years after beating NC State 78-59 Friday in a semifinal game at the Final Four. The No. 1 seeded Gamecocks will play for the winner of the Iowa-UConn game for the national championship Sunday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

The undefeated Gamecocks (37-0) broke open a close game in the third quarter, outscoring the Wolfpack 29-6. The vaunted South Carolina defense was impressive, holding NC State to 1-of-11 shooting in the quarter.

Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina’s 6-7 center, led the Gamecocks with 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting and added 11 rebounds. Late in the first half, she suffered what appeared to be a knee injury. But Cardoso looked effective during the third quarter and, with her team comfortably ahead, sat out the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks led by as many as 24 points in the second half. South Carolina held a 46-32 edge in rebounding. Ashlyn Watkins had 20 rebounds for the Gamecocks.

No. 3 seed NC State led early in the first quarter and trailed at halftime by just 32-21. But after dominating the third quarter, there was no looking back for the Gamecocks. Aziah James led NC State with 20 points. NC State standout Saniya Rivers, playing against her former team, was 2-for-11 shooting from the floor and had only five points. — Josh Peter

Ashlyn Watkins on South Carolina’s win vs NC State

In an on-court postgame interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe, South Carolina forward Ashlyn Watkins talked about the Gamecocks’ post play against NC State. ‘We dominate, that’s what we do …’ the sophomore said. ‘They didn’t really have a post that could guard us or stop us.’

As Dawn Staley and South Carolina aim for their third national championship, Watkins was clear-eyed about their desire for it. ‘We want this. We want it.’

Ashlyn Watkins pounding the boards

South Carolina foward Ashlyn Watkins pulled down 20 rebounds against NC State, setting a new single-game career high. The 6-foot-3 sophomore has chipped in 8 points, too. South Carolina leads 74-57 with less than 2 minutes left.

Kamilla Cardoso on bench with brace on knee

South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso started the fourth quarter on the bench, a brace now on top of the sleeve she’s been wearing since she injured her knee in the second quarter.

Kamilla Cardoso stats

South Carolina center Kamila Cardoso scored 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting against NC State. She also pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked two shots. Cardoso has played in 31 games this season, averaging 14.1 points on 58.9% shooting, 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2.1 assists per game.

South Carolina dominates in third quarter vs NC State

South Carolina buried NC State in the third quarter, outscoring the Wolfpack 29-6 to build a 61-37 lead. The Gamecocks looked at their best defensively, holding NC State scoreless for more than six minutes while going on an 11-0. South Carolina’s shooters also heated up from 3-point range. Kamilla Cardoso, who wasn’t on the floor to start the fourth quarter and was riding a bike on the sideline at the end of the third quarter, has a double-double with 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting and 11 rebounds.

Even as South Carolina dominates, coach Dawn Staley is still frustrated by the Gamecocks’ defensive errors.

Kamila Cardoso riding bike on sideline

Near the end of the third quarter, South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso was riding a bike on the sideline as she manages a knee injury suffered in the second quarter.

Kamila Cardoso, South Carolina open big lead

South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso scored back-to-back buckets to give the Gamecocks a big lead to open the third quarter against NC State. She had 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting through three quarters. South Carolina came out firing, opening the third quarter with a 9-1 run before mounting a 55-36 lead with less than 3 minutes left.

Cardoso looks healthy enough too, having scored a couple of baskets this quarter despite having hobbled off the court late in the first half. It looks like she is moving better as she gets a little warmer.

Kamilla Cardoso back on the floor to start second half

South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso is back on floor to start the second half against NC State after going down near the end of the first half. She is wearing a big wrap on her right leg, and it looks like compression stocking.

We’ll see how she can move, but early in the second half it looks like she’s grimacing when she runs. — Nancy Armour and Lindsay Schnell

Where is Kamilla Cardoso from?

South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso is from Montes Claros, Brazil, moving to the U.S. when she was 15. She went to Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn.

South Carolina opens 10-point lead to start second half

South Carolina opened a 10-point lead to start the second half against NC State. The Gamecocks built a 44-34 lead with 7:09 in the third quarter.

Kamila Cardoso injured in second quarter

Kamilla Cardoso was hurt in the second quarter. And it looked painful. South Carolina’s 6-foot-7 center landed awkwardly under the basket after a missed shot with just under 2 minutes left in the second quarter and came up limping. It’s hard to tell if it’s a right knee or ankle, but Cardoso was in obvious pain. It’s hard to tell if it’s a right knee or ankle, but Cardoso was in obvious pain.

She hobbled for two trips down the court, but committed a foul with 1:39 to play — probably so she could get out of the game. She limped off the floor and headed back to the locker room immediately. Cardoso scored 16 points in 15 minutes of play and helped South Carolina to a 32-21 halftime lead. What we know about Cardoso’s injury.

South Carolina vs. NC State halftime analysis

If you want to beat South Carolina, you’ve got to do one thing really well: Rebound.

And right now, NC State is losing that battle. South Carolina leads the battle on the glass at halftime, 22-17. The Gamecocks are particularly good on the offensive end of the floor, and have grabbed six offensive boards already. They’ve only turned those into four second-chance points so far, but there’s no question Dawn Staley is harping on them in the locker room to hit the glass harder. If South Carolina gets rolling with offensive rebounds — even if Kamilla Cardoso is out for awhile, the Gamecock guards rebound extremely well — it’s hard to slow them down.

Meanwhile, NC State has grabbed five offensive rebounds and turned those into four second chance points, too. — Lindsay Schnell

How South Carolina nabbed halftime lead vs NC State

South Carolina held a 32-31 lead over NC State at the half — and South Carolina’s fans are holding their breath. Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina’s 6-7 center, hobbled off the court with an injury late in the second quarter.

Before the injury, Cardoso had scored a game-high 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor and grabbed seven rebounds. South Carolina clearly needed the contributions to keep pace with NC State during fast-paced first half. Aziah James has spurred the Wolfpack with 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.

The pace has tested both teams, with South Carolina committing 10 turnovers and NC State committing seven. Although South Carolina led by as many as six points, it was mostly nip and tuck, with four lead changes and four ties. — Josh Peter

Kamila Cardoso scores 12 straight points for South Carolina

NC State coach Wes Moore on Wolfpack’s performance so far

NC State coach Wes Moore was first up for TV interviews after the opening quarter. With the Wolfpack and Gamecocks tied at 16, Moore was hopeful his team would stay relaxed and keep a hot hand. Before heading back to the bench, he told ESPN’s Holly Rowe: ‘Thanks, Holly. You look good in red!’ That’s the hue that is spackled all over the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, worn by die-hard Wolfpack fans. — Heather Tucker

South Carolina, NC State tied after first quarter

The Gamecocks and Wolfpack were tied 16-16 after the first period in their Final Four game. NC State guard Aziaha James led all scorers with 8 points. South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso leads has 4 points for South Carolina, which got 7 points off the bench in period.

A fast-paced start turned almost frenetic at times with the teams finishing the quarter deadlocked. South Carolina jumped on top 5-0, but NC State responded with a 10-2 run thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from James. But you didn’t expect the Gamecocks to fold early did you? Of course not. Back the came behind pressure defense. Are the referees’ whistles working? So far, only one personal foul has been called.

Kamila Cordoso contact issue in first quarter vs. NC State

It looks as if South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso is having issues with her left contact, trying to rub it back down into place with the trainer putting drops in her eye. She left court briefly in the first quarter but came back and was no longer rubbing her left eye. — Nancy Armour

Aziaha James hot early for NC State

NC State guard Aziaha James opened the first quarter 3-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-3 from 3. She finished the opening period with 8 points for the Wolfpack.

Sania Feagin comes up with big block in first quarter vs NC State

Watch South Carolina forward Sania Feagin block NC State guard Saniya Rivers in the first quarter.

Dawn Staley outfit

The Dawn Staley fashion update: Whole lotta Louis Vuitton. Black LV T-shirt, black bomber jacket and sneakers with logo pattern. Leather pants, but have to assume those are Louis, too. — Nancy Armour

Aziaha James stats 

Junior guard Aziaha James leads the team with 16.7 points and adds 4.6 rebounds per game. She has come alive in the tournament, scoring 29 points to oust Stanford and then notching 27 points and tallying six rebounds to advance past Texas. — Victoria Hernandez 

River Baldwin stats

NC State center River Baldwin has played in 34 games this season, averaging 10.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Baldwin is in her fifth year of college hoops, spending the first three at Florida State and the last two years with the Wolfpack.

South Carolina women’s basketball roster

Here is the South Carolina women’s basketball roster.

NC State women’s basketball roster

Here is the NC State women’s basketball roster.

South Carolina starting lineup

Here’s who is starting for the Gamecocks in the Final Four against NC State: C Kamilla Cardoso, F Chloe Kitts, G Raven Johnson, G Bree Hall, G Te-Hina Paopao.

NC State starting lineup

Here’s who is starting for the Wolfpack in the Final Four against South Carolina: C River Baldwin, F Mimi Collins, G Madison Hayes, G Aziaha James, G Saniya Rivers.

Former teammates Saniya Rivers, Kamilla Cardoso share a pregame hug

Former teammates at South Carolina, Saniya Rivers and Kamilla Cardoso shared a long hug before they tipped it off in their Final Four matchup. Read Lindsay Schnell’s full feature on Rivets here.

NC State vs. South Carolina prediction

USA TODAY Sports’ Lindsay Schnell is picking NC State to knock off undefeated South Carolina while Nancy Armour has South Carolina winning and getting back to the national championship game.

March Madness bracket 2024 women

Here is the full women’s March Madness bracket.

Why South Carolina will beat NC State women in Final Four

South Carolina has coasted into yet another Final Four, largely unnoticed because of all the attention on Iowa’s game against LSU in the Elite Eight, a rematch of last year’s national championship game. But do not take the lack of a spotlight as a sign of deficiencies on the part of the Gamecocks. South Carolina is as relentless as it is ruthless, as NC State will soon discover. — Nancy Armour

Why NC State women will beat South Carolina in Final Four

NC State coach Wes Moore knows he’s got a David-and-Goliath matchup on his hands when his third-seeded NC State Wolfpack take on overall No. 1 seed and undefeated South Carolina on Friday in the Final Four. But he also knows this: In that story, it’s David who comes out ahead. 

And that type of confidence in his team is partially why the Wolfpack will stun the Gamecocks. That, and excellent guard play. Throughout NC State’s tournament run, and particularly the last two games, starting guards Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers, herself a former Gamecock, have been stellar. James in particular is on a tear, averaging 24.3 points during the NCAA Tournament, up from 15.8 before that. — Lindsay Schnell

2024 WNBA mock draft: Where are the top prospects in Final Four predicted to go?

The 2024 WNBA Draft is less than two weeks away, providing a quick turnaround from the end of the women’s college basketball season. March Madness is almost over, and the Final Four is this weekend. Here are the latest WNBA draft landing spot projections for players participating in this year’s Final Four.

Te-Hina Paopao on Polynesian culture and women’s basketball

If it seems like Polynesian stars are suddenly everywhere in women’s basketball (and elsewhere), well, that’s how they planned it. “The culture is booming,” South Carolina guard Te-Hina Paopao said. “And we’re going to keep it growing. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to keep inspiring the next generation so people know we don’t only play football and softball.” Read Lindsay Schnell’s full feature.

Tessa Johnson stats

South Carolina guard Tessa Johnson averages 6.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 17.3 minutes per game. The 6-foot freshman has appeared in 33 games this season, shooting 43.1 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from 3.

MiLaysia Fulwiley stats

South Carolina freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley averages 11.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.1 assists per game this season.

Saniya Rivers stats

NC State guard Saniya Rivers, who is a 6-foot-1 junior, averages 12.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and a team-high 3.8 assists per game for the Wolfpack. Read Lindsay Schnell’s full feature here.

Women’s Final Four location: Where are the games?

The 2024 women’s Final Four is at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, in Cleveland, Ohio, the same location as Sunday’s national championship game.

Watch NC State women’s basketball arrive at Final Four

How many national championships has South Carolina won? 

South Carolina has won the national championship twice. The Gamecocks won their first title in 2017, beating the Mississippi State Bulldogs, 67-55. They then captured their second national championship in 2022 by topping the Connecticut Huskies, 64-49. — Victoria Hernandez 

How many national championships has NC State been to? 

The Wolfpack has never been to the women’s college basketball national championship. If they topple No. 1 South Carolina on Friday, it will be their first appearance in the title matchup. — Victoria Hernandez 

Women’s college basketball coaches want to know: Where’s accountability, transparency in officiating?

As women’s basketball explodes in popularity and administrators realize its power as a revenue-generator, pressure to win has ratcheted up. And that makes every call, especially in a close game, matter. For all the discourse around the varying issues in college sports, coaches, administrators and even officials agree on one thing: The officiating in women’s basketball needs major work.

The NCAA declined to make Penny Davis, the head of women’s officiating, available to USA TODAY Sports. But others spoke about one of the game’s most problematic issues. 

“I think to the overall point as the game has gotten more spotlight and just more people purchasing tickets, watching on television, the fundamental question as administrators is, have we done enough to look at the officiating?” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan told USA TODAY Sports. “And I think the answer is no.” Read Lindsay Schnell’s full story.

What to know about NC State women’s basketball, briefly 

In a loaded ACC, the quietly excellent Wolfpack is often overlooked. We should probably stop doing that, given that NC State has five players who score in double figures, with any of them capable of taking over a game. — Lindsay Schnell 

What to know about South Carolina women’s basketball, briefly 

The Gamecocks haven’t forgotten they were upset last year and in fact, they still seem upset about it. They’re taking it out on anyone in their way and seem eager to prove there won’t be a repeat of last spring.  — Lindsay Schnell 

NC State’s Saniya Rivers: What to know

When they saw each other Wednesday for the first time in nearly two years, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and NC State guard Saniya Rivers embraced. But for the following 48 hours, they probably won’t be too friendly with each other. 

It’s a weird matchup for Rivers and Staley, the 16-year head coach for the undefeated Gamecocks. Rivers started her career in Columbia, going in as the No. 3 player in the 2021 class, according to ESPN HoopGurlz. 

‘She’s a great person,’ Rivers said of Staley. ‘We still talk to this day, she congratulates me on accomplishments. I do the same thing. If it’s her birthday, I wish her a happy birthday. We saw each other (Wednesday), hugged it out.’ Read Lindsay Schnell’s full feature here.

What NC State coach Wes Moore said to Wolfpack after shootaround

Watch what NC State coach Wes Moore said to his players after their shootaround this afternoon at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

How many times has South Carolina been to the Final Four? 

This is South Carolina’s sixth trip to the Final Four, all under Dawn Staley’s leadership. They made their first appearance in program history in 2015 when they lost to Notre Dame by one point with a 66-65 score in the national semifinal. The Gamecocks made it to the Final Four in 2017 for their first title, beating Mississippi State, 67-55. 

They returned to the Final Four in 2021 when they fell to Stanford in another close game, 66-65. That was the first of four straight national semifinal appearances. They also made it in 2022 − when they won their second championship by beating Connecticut, 64-49 − 2023, and this year, 2024. — Victoria Hernandez 

How many times has NC State been to the Final Four? 

This year is NC State’s second trip to the Final Four. The Wolfpack previously made the national semifinal in 1998 under Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow. They lost to Louisiana Tech, 84-65. — Victoria Hernandez 

South Carolina vs. NC State odds 

The Gamecocks are favorites to defeat the Wolfpack in Friday’s Final Four matchup, according to BetMGM college basketball odds. 

Spread: South Carolina (-11.5) 

Moneylines: South Carolina (-800); NC State (+550) 

Over/under: 139.5 

Why women’s March Madness feels more entertaining than men’s NCAA Tournament

In LeBron James’ new podcast with J.J. Redick for basketball nerds, Mind the Game, James bemoaned men’s college basketball in two of the three episodes.

“It does not translate for me,” James said. “It frustrates me. My high blood pressure picks up … so I try to stay away from it.”

James says that having one son (Bronny) who just finished his freshman season at Southern California and another son (Bryce) who likely will play college basketball. While the men’s college game remains popular, particularly during March Madness, a question has popped up, especially among NBA executives who have taken their eyes off scouting men’s players to watch the women’s tournament: is women’s college basketball more entertaining than the men’s game?

“They always play the game the right way – passing and cutting, sharing the ball. They’re definitely going to get on the floor for loose balls,” James said of NCAA women’s basketball. “But there’s men’s teams that’s doing that as well too at the end of the day. But the star power that we have in the women’s game outweighs some of the men, too.” Read Jeff Zillgitt’s full column.

Women’s college basketball is faster than it’s ever been. The result? More records falling

Shortly after Alyssa Ustby recorded the first triple-double in North Carolina women’s basketball history in early January, coach Courtney Banghart was asked: Why are so many records being broken lately in women’s college basketball? What’s different about now compared to, say, 10 years ago?  

Banghart, who played at Dartmouth from 1996-2000 and coached at Princeton before moving to Chapel Hill in 2019, didn’t hesitate. 

“The game is so fast,” she said, shaking her head in awe. “There’s so many possessions — the stats guys might know that better than me — but the talent level and speed of play is remarkable. I’ve been in this game a long time and (players today) can all do so much with the ball. There’s just more versatility as well as athleticism, and that leads to more possessions and more impact on the game.” Read Lindsay Schnell’s full feature.

South Carolina women’s basketball roster

Here is the South Carolina women’s basketball roster.

NC State women’s basketball roster

Here is the NC State women’s basketball roster.

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