South Carolina maintained its perfect record in dominant fashion Sunday with an 85-56 victory over Ole Miss in SEC conference play. With their 40th consecutive regular-season win, the No. 1-ranked Gamecocks improved to 21-0.
Remaining the only undefeated team in the country will be a challenge this week. Not only will the Gamecocks welcome No. 11 ranked UConn to town on Sunday, but they’ll have to play the Huskies without star center Kamilla Cardoso. The senior is traveling to her native Brazil to play for the Brazilian national team in the 2024 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which runs Feb. 8-11.
While the timing isn’t ideal for South Carolina, head coach Dawn Staley is fully supportive of Cardoso.
“We want the best players on our team, and sometimes the best players are the best players that represent another country,” Staley said. “When we recruited her we said if there’s an opportunity to go with your national team, go with your national team. Same with [Laeticia Amihere], the last couple years she went to the Canadian national team training camp and competitions and she’s an Olympian. It only makes use feel good.
“We’ll feel the void that Kamilla leaves with us, but I’m sure all the other post players are really preparing. I think [Sania] Feagin’s been preparing weeks prior to this happening now because she knew Kamilla was going with the national team. She’s been doing extra cardio probably for the past month. And it was on her. It wasn’t something that we said go do extra, it was on her to be ready. We’ll call her number a lot over the next two games and hopefully that builds some confidence with her and strengthens our frontcourt.”
Cardoso, a potential lottery pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, is averaging career-highs across the board this season with 13.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game on 59.5% shooting. She leads the team in all four categories and is tied for sixth in the country in blocks.
In addition to the showdown with UConn, Cardoso will miss South Carolina’s matchup with Missouri on Thursday. They went on the road and beat the Tigers by 24 less than a month ago, so they shouldn’t have much trouble with that one. The qualifying tournament ends Sunday, the day of the UConn game, so Cardoso should be back in action for the Gamecocks’ trip to Tennessee on Feb. 15.
The Brazilian women’s national team is looking to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2016, when it was the host nation. To do so, Cardoso and Co. will need to finish in the top-three of their qualifying tournament group, which also features Australia, Germany and Serbia.
If Cardoso can lead Brazil to the Olympics, it will cap off a spectacular run that has seen her country win gold medals at the South American Championship and FIBA AmeriCup in recent years.