COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley learned something new about her No. 1 Gamecocks — they didn't let their big win over LSU steal their focus from rising Vanderbilt.
Kamilla Cardoso scored 23 points and South Carolina won its 16th straight over Vanderbilt, 91-74, on Sunday, just a few days removed from rallying for a 76-70 win against the defending national champions.
The past few days have been a fan's delight and a coach's worst nightmare to make sure her players didn't get caught up in the achievement.
“I was a little nervous about how they'd respond,” Staley said.
Not great at first, it turned out.
South Carolina looked like it still had the LSU triumph on its mind at first. The players danced and shimmied during pregame warmups and Staley came out in black hoodie with “Boo,” on it — a clapback to her joke about her treatment by LSU fans.
And Vanderbilt (17-4, 4-3), which came in on its best 20-game start in 17 years, stuck with the powerhouse Gamecocks early on. The Commodores were up 21-20 on Sacha Washington’s foul shot with 8:56 left in the half.
“I kept wondering, ‘When are we going to turn it on?’” Staley said.
Soon enough, Cardoso and the Gamecocks (19-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) found their stride to win their 51st straight at home.
South Carolina used a 22-9 run the rest of the period to take control. Tessa Johnson, Te-Hina Paopao and Bree Hall all hit 3-pointers and Ashlyn Watkins had a three-point play during the stretch.
Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 senior who leads the SEC in field goal percentage (60%), made nine of 14 shots. She finished two points shy of her career best, set during her freshman year at Syracuse.
Hall and Watkins added 11 points each for the Gamecocks. Watkins also had a game-high eight boards and three of the Gamecocks seven blocks.
Washington and Aga Makurat led Vanderbilt with 18 points apiece.
Gamecocks forward Sania Feagin said the team takes pride in keeping the past in the past. It was the same preparing for Vanderbilt, no matter how big the LSU win. "We took off that ‘W"’ and came to get the next one," she said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are on the rise in coach Shea Ralph's third season. But they still have a ways to go to catch up to South Carolina. Vanderbilt's post players struggled to slow Cardoso. Still, the team remains on track for their first winning season since 2015-16 and their first NCAA Tournament trip in 10 years.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were not the sharpest they've been this season, yet are off to a second straight 19-0 start and extended a home win streak that began in December 2020. South Carolina won for the 1,001st time in program history.
POSITIVES IN DEFEAT
Vanderbilt coach Shea Ralph found plenty to be pleased about with her team's performance. In a season where South Carolina came in beating SEC opponents by an average of 26 points, the Commodores pushed the Gamecocks through most of the game. “We'll talk about about how there are things we have to do if we want to win big games,” Ralph said. “But today we have to acknowledge the fact they had to beat us.”
Vanderbilt hosts Ole Miss on Thursday night.
South Carolina goes to Auburn on Thursday night.
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