CLEVELAND -- There would be no early trip home from this Final Four for South Carolina. Kamilla Cardoso made sure of that.

Despite playing with a sore knee in the second half, Cardoso dominated inside. She scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and the Gamecocks used a third-quarter blitz to beat NC State 78-59 on Friday night and clinch their spot in the national championship game. South Carolina (37-0) is the first team since UConn in 2016 to take an undefeated record into the women's title game.

Last season, South Carolina entered the Final Four as a heavy favorite, undefeated and on a quest to win its second straight championship. But the Gamecocks lost to Iowa in the semifinals, a heartbreaking defeat that returning South Carolina players have not forgotten. Before Friday night's game, they repeatedly said they never want to have that feeling again and would never overlook another opponent.


"I feel so happy," said guard Raven Johnson, who finished with 13 points. "Going from last year, we didn't make it to this level. I feel like it's unfinished business. We've got one more game, and we can't let down right now because we didn't come this far just to come this far. So we have a mission. We came here for one reason, to get a national championship."


After Cardoso scored 12 of the team's first 14 points in the second quarter, she appeared to get her ankle tangled up with River Baldwin and landed on her right knee with 1:39 to go before halftime.

South Carolina got more than just an inside presence from Cardoso when the second half began. The shots that were not falling in the first half started going in, one after another.

The Gamecocks opened the quarter on a 16-5 run, and NC State seemed powerless to stop it. The Wolfpack were disjointed and out of sorts. As Aziaha James described it:

"They punched us in the mouth in the third quarter."

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The Wolfpack's six points in the third were tied for the second fewest in any quarter in a women's Final Four game since quarters were introduced rather than halves in 2016.


NC State had no interior presence, and that became a huge advantage for South Carolina. Cardoso made 10 of 12 shots from the field. In addition to Cardoso's presence, Ashlyn Watkins grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds, making her the fifth player in Final Four history to pull the feat and the first to do so off the bench.

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