The Daily Gamecock

New faces help South Carolina women's basketball team beat Benedict College 98-41

<p>Sophomore guard Eniya Russell looks up to find a teammate who is open. &nbsp;</p>
Sophomore guard Eniya Russell looks up to find a teammate who is open.  

The South Carolina women’s basketball team began its season with a 98-41 blowout win over Benedict College. South Carolina's new players — the top-ranked recruiting class of 2021 —  shone in their Colonial Life Arena debuts.

The teams went back and forth, trying to gain the edge throughout the first quarter. The Gamecocks went on a 28-6 run to end the first half following a Benedict score. After the run, South Carolina took control of the scrimmage. 

Sophomore transfer center Kamilla Cardoso, who led all scorers with 18 points, was the standout player. At 6 feet 7 inches tall, Cardoso's size gives the Gamecocks a unique advantage. 

"(Kamilla) is a sponge. She really understands how to play," head coach Dawn Staley said. "I'd like for her to take more shots that she's not used to taking."

Staley's freshman tallied 26 points on the night. Guards Saniya Rivers and Raven Johnson led the freshman by making 11 and 8 points, respectively. 

Rivers was the third-ranked player overall in the 2021 recruiting class. She said playing in her first collegiate game is a different experience than she's used to. 

"It felt good, but at the same time, it's real. We have to lock-in. Even though this game doesn't count, it's getting us ready for the season to come," Rivers said.

Staley said Rivers has an "it factor" when it comes to offense. 

Johnson made her impact known early with an impressive series of plays early in the second-quarter run. She hit a 3-pointer before coming up with a monster block on the ensuing Benedict possession. Following the block, she led her team down the floor and assisted junior forward Laeticia Amihere for the score. 

Amihere and reigning national player of the year, junior forward Aliyah Boston, each added 12 points for the Gamecocks. 

Boston did not miss a beat, and the powerful forward snatched seven rebounds and three blocks. She finished the 2020-2021 campaign tied for seventh in the nation in blocks per game. 

The Gamecocks played without junior reigning SEC First Team guard Zia Cooke due to an ankle injury.

"Zia's good. If we had to start today, she would've been able to play, but we're just going to take precautions with that," Staley said. 

Staley said there is still work to be done before the season begins. 

 "We're not converting in transition like we should," Staley said. "We have to convert at a larger rate than what we're doing."

The team will open its season against fifth-ranked North Carolina State on Tuesday, Nov. 9 in Raleigh. Tip-off is expected to be at 5 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN.