South Carolina under the radar in women’s March Madness Final Four

Sometimes the quest for a perfect season requires that endgame magic remains intact.

South Carolina certainly did that in the SEC semifinals last month, when center Kamilla Cardoso made a 3-pointer — the first of her college career — with 1.1 seconds left to stun Tennessee.

Other climbs avoided the drama.

South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso is averaging 14.1 points and 9.4 rebounds, both team highs. Getty Images

That’s what happened for Connecticut in 2015-16, when the Huskies posted a ninth undefeated season in women’s college basketball and their third in seven years.

But since then, the sport has been missing an undefeated champion.

There is more parity. The landscape has changed.

Talented stars spread out across major conferences instead of concentrating on a few select teams.

Perfect seasons occurred five times between 2008-09 and 2015-16, with UConn scoring four and Baylor recording the other.

Texas (in 1985-86) and Tennessee (in 1997-98) also achieved the feat.

So if No. 1 South Carolina beats NC State on Friday and then wins the championship, the Gamecocks will become first in eight seasons.

They kept their perfect mark to last year’s Final Four and followed that up by getting back to this point, on the brink of an elusive accomplishment that Minnesota Lynx star Napheesa Collier said would be “more and more more difficult” to achieve in the future.

Te-Hina Paopao, a guard from South Carolina, ranks second nationally in 3-point percentage (46.3). P.A.

“For them to be able to have a perfect season, it’s really something special,” Collier, a freshman on UConn’s 2015-16 team, told the Post. “It’s special every time you do it, but the more the game grows, it’s really just a testament to how good a team they are.”

Te-Hina Paopao, a guard from South Carolina, ranks second nationally in 3-point percentage (46.3).

Raven Johnson has the fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio (3.0).

Cardoso is averaging 14.1 points and 9.4 rebounds, both team highs. The Gamecocks’ opponents shot just 26.9 on 3-pointers, and they also compiled the No. 1 scoring margin (29.6).

Head coach Dawn Staley isn’t sure why, to some extent, the Gamecocks have gone under the radar.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

“I like it,” she said Sunday, after the South Carolina game drew 3.1 million viewers a day before Iowa-LSU generated 12.3.

Staley’s recruitment has allowed South Carolina to build a roster that can “spread the field,” Collier said. Wisconsin head coach Marisa Moseley, UConn’s assistant to three perfect teams, told the Post that the Gamecocks managed to “block out” the inevitable buzz that comes with the quest for perfection.

“Go ahead, take center stage, put it somewhere else,” Staley said. “Let this team continue to thrive in the space given to them. I hope that at the end of the day, next week this time, I hope we give a lot of things to a lot of people to say.

The teams have gotten closer since UConn won in 2016. South Carolina went 35-2 in 2022. Stanford lost just twice the year before. And in 2019, a five-point loss to the Cardinal was the only blemish of Baylor’s championship season.

On the contrary, Los Angeles Sparks guard and former UConn star Kia Nurse told the Post, she would have expected the Huskies to orchestrate another undefeated season.

Her freshman and sophomore years overlapped with the group of seniors — Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck — who went 151-5 and won four national titles.

“I didn’t know anything different,” Collier said of 2015-16.

Repeat champions and winning streaks extended over multiple seasons, however, became non-existent.

Failed attempts at perfection served as warnings about the difficulty of the task. But South Carolina, finally, could change the situation this weekend.

“If it was easy, everyone would have done it,” Nurse said. “It would happen consistently. So the fact that we were able to do this for multiple seasons probably says more about the greatness that exists in Connecticut.

“Because if you could have an undefeated season, there would be undefeated seasons in every sport everywhere, and it doesn’t necessarily happen that often.”

New York Post

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