South Carolina stays perfect, but fight mars title game win


South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso vies for the ball with LSU forward Angel Reese during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference women's tournament final Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

South Carolina beat LSU for the SEC championship on Sunday in a title game marred by mass ejections that have implications for the NCAA tournament.

The top-ranked Gamecocks weathered foul trouble from All-SEC center Kamilla Cardoso then held on after a late-game scuffle for the 79-70 win. Each team finished the game with five eligible players after the bench-clearing fracas that projects to leave Cardoso ineligible in the first round of NCAA tournament play.

Things got heated in the final minutes as the scuffle broke out near midcourt. Players traded shoves after Cardoso pushed LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson to the court at the end of a play. Johnson previously grabbed the hip of South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley on a turnover, sparking Cardoso’s reaction.

Players from both teams left the bench to join the scuffle. A man from the stands jumped over the scorer’s table to join the scuffle before being detained by security. ESPN reported that the man was Johnson’s brother.

Game officials spent roughly 20 minutes reviewing the incident on a sideline monitor before sorting things out. They called an intentional foul on Johnson, then ejected Cardoso for fighting. They also ejected every player who left the bench to join the scuffle.

Per the NCAA rule book, Cardoso is not eligible for South Carolina’s next game because of the ejection for fighting. South Carolina’s next game will be in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Other players who were ejected will be eligible for their next game. South Carolina led, 73-66 at the time of the incident and held on for the win.

South Carolina secured the win against the reigning NCAA champions despite Cardoso watching much of the game from the bench. She entered the second half with two fouls and picked up her third 1:20 into the third quarter. She went to the bench with South Carolina holding a 39-32 lead and didn’t return until the start of the fourth. She missed the final 2:08 after being ejected.

LSU shaved just one point off its deficit with Cardoso on the bench in the third as South Carolina entered the fourth quarter with a 59-53 lead. Freshman reserve guard Milaysia Fulwiley sparked the Gamecocks’ offense in Cardoso’s absence, scoring 10 of her game-high 24 points in the third.

Like last season, South Carolina enters NCAA tournament play undefeated as the presumptive No. 1 overall seed, a situation that didn’t translate to a national title in 2022. The Gamecocks fell to Caitlin Clark and Iowa in last year’s Final Four for their first and only loss of the season before LSU went on to defeat Iowa for the national championship.

With Sunday’s loss, Angel Reese and the Tigers project to enter NCAA tournament play as a No. 2 seed as they look to defend their championship.

The South Carolina win was the second this season over LSU after a 76-70 over the Tigers in January. The Gamecocks needed to rally from an 11-point first half deficit in that regular-season win on LSU’s home court. There was no rally needed on Sunday as South Carolina opened an 18-15 first-quarter lead and didn’t trail for the rest of the game.

LSU cut a double-digit deficit to as close a 67-66 midway through the third quarter with a 9-0 run. A Raven Johnson bank shot halted the LSU run, and the Tigers never took the lead.



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