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Underdog Blue Hose set for rematch with Gamecocks

PC head coach Alaura Sharp during practice Thursday at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.

COLUMBIA – When South Carolina and Presbyterian face off at 2 p.m. Friday in Columbia, the Gamecocks will be without one of their best players. Even so, the Blue Hose are decided 53.5-point underdogs.

All-American Kamilla Cardoso, a 6-foot-7 center from Brazil by way of Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, will not be in uniform. She is serving a one-game suspension for her role in a fracas late in the game in the Gamecocks’ victory over LSU in the SEC Tournament championship game.

Cardoso is averaging 14 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season.

Sophomore Ashlyn Watkins is expected to see her role increase with Cardoso out for the contest.

“She needs to play well,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said of Watkins, a 6-3 forward. “She really does. She needs to get back to the Ashlyn of old, dominating both on both sides of the basketball.”

More than a week after the SEC championship game, Staley said she is excited to “get things started.”

“(The Blue Hose) are excited,” she said. “They’re not going to back down, which I like. But, I mean, we’re home. We got a job to do and got to play well and get off to a great start.”

While the Gamecocks’ roster is deep, PC sixth-year center Bryanna Brady said Cardoso’s absence could help PC on the boards. In South Carolina’s 99-29 victory over PC in December, the Blue Hose threw everything they could at Cordoso.

PC backup center Núria Cunill at practice Thursday at Colonial Life Arena.

“Sometimes we were boxing Cardoso out with two or three people unsuccessfully,” PC head coach Alaura Sharp said.

The Gamecocks played without Cardoso for a stretch of the regular season as she joined the Brazilian national team for international competition, so PC has a point of reference, said Sharp.

“They played without her before, so I think that’s the advantage that it’s not like their first time that they’ve had to figure it out,” Sharp said. “We’ve tried to go back and study some of those game plan game film to see who do they go to who do they want the ball because she is such a big part of their offense but it does take off a little bit of length, but they still have so much athleticism.”

PC dispatched of their last two opponents – Radford and Sacred Heart – with tenacious defense even when their shots were not falling. PC outscored Sacred Heart in Wednesday’s First Four game by eight points, 24-16. Brady had 12 of those points for PC.

But Sacred Heart scored 15 points off offensive rebounds and 12 off of turnovers. PC also only hit 1 of 11 3-point attempts, but still managed 40% (16 of 40) from the field thanks to its work inside.

Sharp said the Blue Hose (21-14) have to be more efficient on offense and limit second-chance points defensively if they hope to pull off a monumental upset as a No. 16 seed against the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.

Brady understands the task at hand, especially after having already taken on the Goliath of women’s college basketball once before.

“I think it’s easier to play as underdogs, and everybody knows we’re the underdogs. It’s no secret,” she said. “So, going out ther and being able to just play basketball and be loose and understand that we have nothing to lose as far as going out there and playing hard, playing together and doing the things that got us here.”

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