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Kamilla Cardoso keeps South Carolina undefeated with first career 3-pointer in last-second win over Tennessee

The Gamecocks center spoiled Rickea Jackson's heroics with an unbelievable game-winner to send South Carolina to the SEC championship game

GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA - MARCH 09: Kamilla Cardoso #10 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates with Te-Hina Paopao #0 after her buzzer beater three point basket to win their game against the Tennessee Lady Vols during the semifinals of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 09, 2024 in Greenville, South Carolina.  (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Kamilla Cardoso, pictured celebrating with Te-Hina Paopao, saved the day for South Carolina against the Tennessee Vols. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images) (Eakin Howard via Getty Images)

South Carolina gave fans an unforgettable ending against Tennessee in the semifinals of the SEC tournament on Saturday.

It looked like the No. 1 Gamecocks were headed for their first loss of the season until 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for a thrilling 74-73 win.

The kicker: It was the first made 3 of her career. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year hadn't even attempted a shot from beyond arc since the 2020-21 season, when she played for Syracuse. Saturday marked the senior's 114th appearance since then.

That's why the No. 5 Tennessee Vols left her wide open when they had a 73-71 lead with 1.1 seconds on the clock, but the Brazilian center proved that every Gamecock is a threat with the ball.

The mind-blowing finish sent Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper down to the hardwood, devastated. She'd coached a commendable effort against the Gamecocks (31-0), aiming for her first win against them after two other strong attempts this season.

“I wanted that for them so bad,” Harper said as she fought tears after the loss.

The Gamecocks opened the game on a 13-0 scoring run, and Tennessee had just mounted an impressive comeback from a 23-point deficit before the stunning finish.

It was star senior forward Rickea Jackson's offensive rebound and fadeaway shot that put the Vols in the lead with 24 seconds to play. She recorded 22 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the heroic performance, which was spoiled in the final second.

After the win, legendary South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley discussed the process of drawing up the final play with no timeouts. Before the Gamecocks inbounded the ball, she directed Cardoso to move up to the foul line and pass to guard Te-Hina Paopao in the corner. But right before the ball was in play, she changed her mind and directed Cardoso to shoot it.

Adding to the surreal nature of Cardoso's moment, her family was watching in the stands. Saturday marked just their second time watching her play in-person, as it was their first time in America, Cardoso told reporters.

Cardoso scored a team-high 13 points in the game-winning effort. Still, she saw room for improvement.

“I was very happy my teammates believed in me,” Cardoso said on ESPN's broadcast. “I didn’t have best game I could have, off all night. I was happy I could make the shot and take them to the finals.”

Now, South Carolina is headed for the SEC championship game on Sunday having won 32 consecutive conference games. The Gamecocks stand to win their eighth SEC tournament title since 2015.