The Daily Gamecock

Kamilla Cardoso’s senior season culminates in being named NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player

<p>Senior center Kamilla Cardoso blows a kiss on the NCAA champion trophy on the court of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on April 8, 2024. Cardoso earned the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player award.</p>
Senior center Kamilla Cardoso blows a kiss on the NCAA champion trophy on the court of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on April 8, 2024. Cardoso earned the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player award.

Senior center Kamilla Cardoso moved to the United States from her home in Brazil at the age of 15 to pursue her dream of playing collegiate basketball. When she arrived in America, she “didn’t know a lick of English,” according to sophomore guard Raven Johnson, who played on the same AAU team as Cardoso.

“I remember when she first got here, she was looking at all the players like we were weird or something,” Johnson said. “I remember walking up to her, and she didn’t know nothing I was saying, and I had to realize I had to use my phone to talk to her.”

Fast forward seven years, and Cardoso is a two-time national champion with the South Carolina women’s basketball team, picking up numerous individual honors along the way. Just this season alone, she was named an All-American and Defensive Player of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, and she made the All-SEC First Team.

Cardoso received another accolade after the Gamecocks’ 87-75 title-winning victory over Iowa on Sunday, when she was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. 

She delivered multiple dominant performances when the team needed it most and helped South Carolina secure its first-ever undefeated season.

“Kamilla Cardoso was not going to let us lose a game in the NCAA Tournament,” Staley said. “She played like one of the top picks in the WNBA Draft, and her teammates did something that no other teammates have ever done for anybody that went to the WNBA in our program — they send her off as a national champion.”

Cardoso did not make her first appearance in this year’s tournament until the Gamecocks’ round of 32 matchup against No. 8 seed North Carolina. She was suspended from South Carolina’s opening round game after being ejected for her involvement in an altercation between the Gamecocks and LSU during the SEC Championship on March 10.

Cardoso said missing that game provided her with additional motivation to play well in the rest of the tournament.

“I feel like I just wanted to get out there in this tournament and just play really well for my teammates, for my coaches and to win the championship,” Cardoso said. “So I think that's what I did."

Cardoso provided South Carolina with consistency throughout the NCAA Tournament, scoring at least 12 points and grabbing at least seven rebounds in each of the contests she played in. She averaged 16.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game over the course of the competition, but her two biggest performances came in the latest stages of the competition.

The Gamecocks and No. 3 seed North Carolina State played a tightly contested battle in the national semifinals on Friday, with South Carolina holding on to a 32-31 lead heading into halftime. At that point in the contest, Cardoso had provided 16 of the team’s points — including 12 in the second quarter — but was forced to leave the game after picking up an apparent injury.

The injury did not stop her from producing for South Carolina, though, as she finished the game with a team-high of 22 points on 10-12 shooting and grabbed an additional 11 rebounds. Sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins, who recorded 20 rebounds, was the only Gamecock to eclipse that total.

Cardoso’s determination to fight through the injury led to Watkins, senior guard Te-Hina Paopao and junior guard Bree Hall describing her as a “warrior” after the game. Hall went even further as to praise Cardoso for the value she provides to the team on both sides of the basketball.

“She has really great footwork. Her defense is awesome, and it’s not only like she’s just standing in the paint and can just block shots — no, she can go out there on the wing and also get stops as well,” Hall said. “I think it’s just her touch around the basket as well that makes her just incredible.”

That all-around quality was on display in South Carolina’s national championship game victory over No. 1 seed Iowa on Sunday. Cardoso finished the game with 15 points —second only to freshman guard Tessa Johnson, who had 19 — and a team-high of 17 rebounds to record her 28th double-double of the 2023-24 campaign. She also blocked three shots in the contest, marking the 14th time this season that she has accumulated three or more blocks in a single game.

Cardoso said Staley has been instrumental in helping her develop into the player she is today.

“I feel like, since the first day I got to South Carolina, she's been working so hard to get me ready and prepared for moments like this, and I'm just so thankful to have her as a coach. She's like an inspiration for me and a lot of young girls out there,” Cardoso said. “She’s the best in the business, you already know.”

Staley said Cardoso has shown tremendous growth this season alone and that this experience will help her as she transitions into the next step of her basketball journey.

“She watches film a lot more on her own. She watches with (associate head) coach (Lisa) Boyer. She was more willing to do all those other things that create an advantage for her when she's out there on the floor,” Staley said. “Greatness is a process. And she's still very much in — I think — in the beginning stages of her greatness. I think you'll see her play a lot better when she's with pro players.


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