Six ejected as tempers flare in LSU-South Carolina SEC title game

Six ejected as tempers flare in LSU-South Carolina SEC title game

South Carolina forward Kamilla Cardoso was one of six players ejected from the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game after she shoved LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson to the floor late in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

Gamecocks guard MiLaysia Fulwiley had stolen the ball from Johnson, who wrapped her up and was called for an intentional foul. Johnson bumped South Carolina’s Ashlyn Watkins while heading to her bench, and then the 6ft 7in Cardoso rushed in and pushed the 5ft 10in Johnson to the ground.

In all, four South Carolina players were ejected and the Gamecocks had six remaining. LSU were left with only five players after two were disqualified. The Gamecocks held on to win 79-72.

“For us playing a part in that, that’s not who we are,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “That’s not what we’re about.”

Cardoso issued an apology on social media shortly after the game, and her remaining teammates celebrated the championship without her.

“My behavior was not representative of who I am as a person or the South Carolina program, and I deeply regret any discomfort or inconvenience it may have caused,” Cardoso posted on X. “I take full responsibility for my actions and assure you that I am committed to conducting myself with the utmost respect and sportsmanship in the future.”

Cardoso, who averaged 14.2 points and 9.6 rebounds this season, is expected to be one of the top picks in next month’s WNBA draft.

A man identified on the ESPN telecast as Johnson’s brother jumped over the scorer’s table onto the court and briefly made contact with Cardoso before being escorted away by police officers.

The SEC, against the usual practice at its postseason tournaments, closed both locker rooms to reporters. The other players ejected – all for leaving the bench area – were South Carolina’s Chloe Kitts, Tessa Johnson and Sakima Walker, and LSU’s Aalyah Del Rosario and Janae Kent.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey said Johnson was smart to stop Fulwiley, who would have had an uncontested layup otherwise. Mulkey added that she understood emotions getting high at such a critical juncture of the game.

“It’s ugly, it’s not good, no one wants to be a part of that,” she said. “But I’ll tell you this, I wish [Cardoso] would’ve pushed [6ft 3in] Angel Reese. If you’re [6ft 7in], don’t push somebody that little. That was uncalled for in my opinion. Let those two girls who were jawing, let them go at it.”

Staley, who was screaming towards the LSU bench during the incident, apologized afterward to the crowd on behalf of the ejected players, saying their emotions got the better of them.

“I know it didn’t come from an ugly place,” Staley said.

The Gamecocks led 73-66 with 2:08 to play when the dustup took place, and the game was delayed for about 15 minutes while officials reviewed video of the incident.

Cardoso, South Carolina’s leading scorer and rebounder, can expect to miss time during the NCAA Tournament. She hit the game-winning three-pointer, her first as a college player, with 1.1 seconds to play on Saturday in South Carolina’s 74-73 semifinals win over Tennessee.

Cardoso had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes against LSU.

Staley said her young team — the Gamecocks lost seven seniors from a group that reached the past three Final Fours and won the national title in 2022 — is a tightknit group that sticks up for each other.

“That would have never happened with last year’s team, because they would have been so political about it,” Staley said. “Aliyah [Boston, the WNBA rookie of the year] probably would have been the referee and like, ‘No, don’t do that.’ And then you’ve got this team, they’re protectors.”

Staley said that’s an admirable quality, but her team needs a reminder about when to pull back before things get out of hand.

“I hope this is the last of the last,” Staley said.

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