Te-Hina Paopao Will RETURN To South Carolina Amid Perfect Season

WHN | Mar 4, 2024

By Brandolyn Hellams SOUTH CAROLINA – Every preseason ranking had the Gamecocks listed out of the top 5. It only…

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By Brandolyn Hellams

SOUTH CAROLINA – Every preseason ranking had the Gamecocks listed out of the top 5. It only took one game for Dawn Staley and co. to show the nation that they’re still dominant, after a convincing 100-71 win against Notre Dame in their season opener. That put them back at no. 1, and they haven’t left since.  

South Carolina, led by coach Dawn Staley, is set to dominate the SEC Tournament after completing a perfect regular season. Despite preseason doubts due to losing all 5 starters, the Gamecocks proved critics wrong, with players like Kamilla Cardoso and Te-Hina Paopao earning national award nominations. Notably, Paopao, a top 3-point shooter nationally and Oregon transfer, has committed for another season. The team’s depth and dynamic playstyle have garnered attention on social media, with Plies and WNBA stars praising their exciting performances.

Voters’ reasons behind the decision for the preseason ranks was because the team lost all 5 starters, which leaves a fresh 5 with less experience. Wrong. Kamilla Cardoso, and Te-Hina Paopao are nominated for national awards, and Staley is a coach of the year candidate as well. 

“If you compare the undefeated season from last year to this year. It’s so much different, yet we end up in the same space.” Staley speaks to the media during a post game interview after her squad went on to beat the Lady Vols Sunday afternoon in front of a sold out crowd. 

All but 4 of their 29 games were won by double figures. They have two players in the top rankings for most blocks in the nation, and guard Te-Hina PaoPao leads the nation in 3-pt percentage with 48.57%. Paopao isn’t the only efficient player on the team. Kamila Cardoso, Ashlyn Watkins, MiLaysia Fulwiley, Chloe Kitts, and Sania Feagin are in the top 15 for player efficiency rating according to Hoop Heroines. 

One of the rare lists the Gamecocks didn’t make was minutes per game. The team has so much depth that they can afford to rotate players whenever they’d like. Each player on the floor brings a different spark to the team. The Gamecocks have 5 home sellout games this season, and at last check lead the nation in attendance. 

They have been a trending topic on social media as well, with former and current NBA  , and WNBA players posting about how fun this group is to watch. 

National recording artist Plies takes to social media weekly to express his love for Dawn Staley and her players. In fact, he’s given a few of them nicknames. He made a stop at Colonial Life Arena to witness his favorite squad in action, against the UCONN Huskies. The Gamecocks came away with an 83 to 65 win. Then one week later 2x WNBA Champion Kelsey Plum got a courtside seat to see the ladies.

One could say there isn’t one true star on the squad, and that’s what makes them so dangerous. Watkins recorded her second collegiate dunk earlier this season against the Kentucky Wildcats, and fans hold their breath each game as they wait for Fulwiley to execute a no-look pass or her signature scoop layup.

Raven Johnson has court vision like no other, Bree Hall’s defense is next to none, and Tessa Johnson’s rainbow three always comes in at the bottom of the net.

  With all of these accolades, high scoring games, and sold out crowds the goal remains the same, a national title. The SEC tournament tips off Wednesday March 6.  Since they are no.1 in the conference the Gamecocks get a double bye and won’t play until Friday at noon.

 The team is  laser focused on executing so they bring home their 8th SEC tournament championship in the past 10 seasons. Then it’s the road to Cleveland, for the NCAA National Title. 

Brandolyn Hellams is a journalist and producer in Atlanta, who covers sports and entertainment.

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