March Madness: 5 teams who can upend South Carolina's perfect season


The undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks head into the NCAA tournament as the top seed, and the favorite to win the title.

They nearly lost in the SEC tournament to Tennessee, but a heroic 3-pointer from Kamilla Cardoso – the first of her career – saved the perfect record. That win only served to bolster the reputation of this South Carolina squad, a team that’s already achieved greatness, despite graduating all five starters from last year’s Final Four team.

Last year it was Caitlin Clark and Iowa unexpectedly defeating the Gamecocks to earn a spot in the title game. And despite losing players like Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke, in some ways, this South Carolina team is even better than last year’s.

The Hawkeyes were able to complete the upset by packing the paint and forcing South Carolina to shoot 3s. Outside shooting was a weakness for the Gamecocks last year, but not this time around. Te-Hina Paopao and Bree Hall are two of the country’s top shooters, making 47% and 40% of their attempts. That makes the Gamecocks even more difficult to stop.

Now, Dawn Staley’s group is looking to win the program’s third national championship. Stopping the Gamecocks from achieving that goal would be a tall task, but it’s March, the month of possibilities, and a few teams have a shot at taking down the best squad in the country.

Oregon State

There are few posts in the country who can contend with Cardoso, and one of them plays for the Beavers. Raegan Beers, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, is averaging a double-double with 17.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. She’s played and had success against some of the country’s best post players, like Cameron Brink, Lauren Betts and Alissa Pili.

Of course, Cardoso isn’t the only weapon on South Carolina’s roster — the team’s depth is what makes them so dangerous — but she’s a key piece to what they do. With Beers battling Cardoso inside, Timea Gardiner would likely face off with Chloe Kitts, while guards Talia von Oelhoffen, Donovyn Hunter and AJ Marotte match up well with the South Carolina backcourt.

The separation in this matchup comes from the bench units. Oregon State doesn’t have the same levels of talent off the bench that South Carolina does in MiLaysia Fulwiley and Ashlyn Watkins. The Beavers could beat South Carolina, but it would take a heroic effort from their starters.

Texas

Basketball is about exploiting mismatches, and in this matchup, Madison Booker would be a mismatch. The freshman point forward is hard for other guards to contend with thanks to her height, length and strength. Her ability to score in the midrange also helps neutralize shot blockers like Cardoso by either forcing them to come out, and opening up dump passes, or getting wide-open looks if they choose to stay near the rim.

Despite losing Rori Harmon to injury early this season, Texas still has a surprising amount of depth, which is crucial when playing a team like South Carolina. Nine Longhorns average 10 or more minutes of play, with seven players scoring at least 6 points per contest.

They also have height in Taylor Jones and Amina Muhammad to help contend with the South Carolina bigs.

Will South Carolina and Tennessee meet again in the NCAA tournament? (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Will South Carolina and Tennessee meet again in the NCAA tournament? (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tennessee

Of course the Volunteers are on this list. No one has gotten closer to beating South Carolina than Tennessee. They were up two points with a second left in the March 9 matchup before Cardoso’s 3-pointer. It was absolute heartbreak for Tennessee, but it also showed the Volunteers what they are capable of.

Tennessee is peaking at the right time. The Vols faced South Carolina three times this season, and have gotten better in each contest. They lost the first matchup by 11 and the second by eight, before the final one-point defeat.

Rickea Jackson was huge in each of those games, and if Tennessee were to upset South Carolina, her team would need the same type of effort from the forward. She’s averaging 19.4 points and 8 rebounds per game this season, with her long, 6-2 frame causing trouble for defenses. Tennessee also got a big game from Jewel Spear, who scored 21 points against the Gamecocks. If one more Volunteer can get into double-digits, Tennessee could defeat South Carolina.

LSU

Like Tennessee, familiarity would help LSU in a potential rematch with South Carolina. The teams have played twice this season, with South Carolina winning 76-70 in the first and 79-72 in the second.

These teams have comparable starting fives, but once again, it’s the bench that gives South Carolina an edge. In the SEC championship victory, it was Fulwiley who propelled the Gamecocks to victory. She had 24 points in 17 minutes of action, which included a 4-for-5 performance from beyond the arc.

If South Carolina and LSU meet again, officiating could also play a part. After referees let the last game get out of hand, it ended with a skirmish and multiple ejections. In order to avoid a similar situation, a March Madness meetup between these teams would likely be tightly called. Foul trouble and made free throws could be deciding factors.

UCLA

This is a matchup a lot of the country has been hoping for since early in the season when South Carolina and UCLA were regarded as the NCAA’s top two teams. The Bruins had their struggles as the season progressed, but player to player, these teams are evenly matched.

Inside UCLA has 6-7 Betts, who averages 14.7 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. South Carolina has 6-7 Cardoso, who averages 14 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. On paper, the two are nearly identical. Then, there’s the guards. Kiki Rice vs. Te-Hina Paopao, Charisma Osborne against Raven Johnson and Bree Hall vs. Londynn Jones. In this matchup it could be a role player, someone like Warkins or Angela Dugalic who steps up and makes the difference.

This game would be bursting with star power. If UCLA and South Carolina were to meet, it would be in the championship game, and it would likely be an instant classic.



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