No. 1 South Carolina WBB grinds out gritty road win over UNC Tar Heels

South Carolina marched off the court at Carmichael Arena trailing after two quarters for the first time this season.

The Carolina blue crowd was much smaller than the garnet and black one back home. But the Tar Heel faithful made their presence known, filling the arena with impassioned screams after every UNC make, every USC miss and every Gamecock foul. Coach Dawn Staley said Wednesday that her young squad had never played in such a hostile environment as this.

And, for much of Thursday night, it showed.

It wasn’t until the 5:48 mark in the third quarter that the Gamecocks finally took the lead with a three-pointer by Te-Hina Paopao.

They managed to hold onto it, never again trailing en route to their most hard-fought win of the season.

No. 1 South Carolina defeated No. 24 North Carolina 65-58 Thursday afternoon at Carmichael Arena. The victory marked USC’s third ranked conquest of the season (first over then-No. 10 Notre Dame and second over then-No. 14 Maryland, who has since dropped out of the top 25) and just second scoring less than 100 points.

Thursday was the first regular season meeting between the Gamecocks and Tar Heels since 2013 and third straight victory for South Carolina. The last time the two teams faced off was in the 2022 Sweet 16, which USC won 69-61 en route to its second national championship title.

The Gamecocks (6-0) started its most common starting five in Chapel Hill: Kamilla Cardoso, Paopao, Raven Johnson, Bree Hall and Chloe Kitts. The group also started the second half together. Paopao played 24 minutes and 46 seconds before finally subbing out.

South Carolina’s next game will be at Cameron Indoor versus Duke on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Bree Hall, Te-Hina Paopao lead the way

It took a while for Bree Hall to heat up Thursday night. She didn’t score until the 4:38 mark in the second quarter (a layup), but wound up leading the team in points by the end of the third.

With about a minute left in the first half, she sank South Carolina’s first three of the game. That kicked off the Gamecocks’ best sequence of the game to that point. Ashlyn Watkins blocked a shot, then Cardoso layed the ball in at the other end to cut UNC’s lead to three points.

As the game went on, Hall’s energy increased. Made buckets solicited a celebratory yell instead of a sigh of relief. She ended the night 5-of- 6 from the field and 3-of-4 from three for a team-leading 15 points. She also blocked one of Tar Heel Alyssa Ustby’s shots in the fourth quarter.

Paopao made a lot of big shots against UNC, including the three-pointer to give USC the lead. Her calming presence proved crucial in such a challenging environment. She ended the game with 14 points and three 3s.

Lob passes inside to Cardoso didn’t provide the impact they had in South Carolina’s first five games. She attempted just five shots Thursday night and scored six points. Cardoso averaged 11 attempts and 16.8 points per game going into Chapel Hill. She did find production in other ways around the rim, though, with a career-high 16 boards (three on the offensive end and 13 on defense) plus four blocks before fouling out in the last 30 seconds of the game.

Turnover woes

Sharing the basketball has been a hallmark of this year’s South Carolina squad. The Gamecocks had a 2.24 assist-to-turnover ratio going into Thursday night’s game, which ranked second in the nation behind Colorado State (which had 48 fewer assists than USC).

But South Carolina struggled in this regard against UNC, recording only three assists in the first half to eight turnovers. By the game’s end, the Gamecocks had eight assists to 13 turnovers.

Tar Heels challenge Gamecocks on the glass

South Carolina has long been regarded as the best rebounding team in the country.

Before Thursday night, the Gamecocks outrebounded opponents by a NCAA-leading average of 23 per game. But they got beat on the boards by the Tar Heels 26 to 18 in the first half. At the end of the game, UNC had 45 rebounds to South Carolina’s 39.

Next four South Carolina WBB games

  • Dec. 3: at Duke, 1 p.m. (ABC)

  • Dec. 6: vs. Morgan State, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)

  • Dec. 10: vs. Utah, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Dec. 16: vs. Presbyterian, 1 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)