May 22, 2024

The rivalry between SEC foes LSU and South Carolina reached new heights when an altercation broke out during the conference championship game Sunday. Multiple players were ejected, and Gamecocks center Kamilla Cardoso has been suspended for the first game of the NCAA Tournament, the SEC confirmed to The Athletic on Monday.

Wondering what happened between the two national title contenders and how this may impact their March Madness runs? Here’s a rundown of Sunday’s scuffle and what it may mean for the future:

What’s the history?

An über competitive game between the national title contenders in late January, which saw South Carolina overcome a 5-point halftime deficit to win 76-70, raised the stakes of their eventual postseason meeting. Then both teams entered the final game of the conference tournament coming off emotional semifinal matchups. South Carolina narrowly escaped Tennessee thanks to Kamilla Cardoso’s stunning 3-pointer — the first of her career — while LSU players said they were playing the title game for teammate Last-Tear Poa, who exited the Tigers’ Saturday game on a stretcher after suffering a concussion in the fourth quarter.

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What happened Sunday?

Before the late-game exchange, players traded barbs, and moments of called (and uncalled) chippy contact boiled over to a point where the scuffle broke out.

LSU star Angel Reese and Cardoso went back and forth all game, with Reese pulling Cardoso’s hair with 5:15 left in the second quarter and then Cardoso shoving Reese around the 4:34 mark. A second later, Reese was called for an intentional foul for elbowing Cardoso in the face. Cardoso also had foul trouble, going to the bench after picking up her third early in the third quarter.

The scuffle erupted with just over 2 minutes left on the game clock when LSU guard Flau’jae Johnson tugged at the jersey of South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley, slowing down her progress as she dribbled up the floor. Johnson then bumped into South Carolina’s Ashlyn Watkins. Cardoso sprinted over, pushing Johnson to the ground.

The benches mostly cleared as players ran to midcourt before coaches separated their respective teams. A fan, whom ESPN’s broadcast identified as Johnson’s brother, left the stands and leapt over the scorer’s table, and was briefly on the court before police escorted him off the floor.

Johnson’s brother, identified as Trayron Milton, was arrested for disorderly conduct and assault and battery. Milton was booked into a Greenville County jail.

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Who got ejected? Why?

After a delay that lasted around 20 minutes, officials called Johnson for committing an intentional foul and ejected Cardoso. They also ejected every player from each team’s bench for leaving their respective bench areas, except for South Carolina’s Sania Feagin, who did not leave the Gamecocks’ bench area, and Te-Hina Paopao, who was already at the scorer’s table to sub into the game. Feagin replaced Cardoso on the floor after the ejection.

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Why was Cardoso suspended?

She was suspended because she was ejected for fighting, which is stipulated in NCAA rules. The other ejected players were tossed from the game for leaving the bench area. Because they were not disqualified from play due to fighting, those players did not receive suspensions.

Will her absence impact South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament?

Not likely. Though Cardoso will miss the opening game of the tournament, the Gamecocks will still be the heavy favorites as the No. 1 overall seed on Selection Sunday and will face an overmatched No. 16 seed. Over the past five tournaments, South Carolina has won its first game by an average of 29.8 points.

Watkins, who is averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds, will likely step up to fill Cardoso’s absence.

What players, coaches said after the game

Reese said she had never played in a game quite like Sunday’s championship but chalked it up as “two heavy hitters” who were battling.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey said Cardoso shoving Johnson was “uncalled for” and referenced their height difference. Cardoso is 6-foot-7 and Johnson is 5-10.

“It’s ugly. It’s not good. No one wants to be a part of that. No one wants to see that ugliness. But I can tell you this: I wish she would have pushed Angel Reese. Don’t push a kid — (you’re) 6’8″. Don’t push somebody that little,” Mulkey said. “Let those two girls that were jawing, let them go at it.”

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said she took responsibility for what happened on the Gamecocks’ side and added that Johnson approached her after the game.

“Flau’jae came to me after the game, right after the game, she just apologized and said she’s not that type of player. I really appreciate that. That’s something that somebody won’t ever hear if I didn’t say anything. And she’s not. She’s a really good person. Things just got escalated,” Staley said.

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Cardoso took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to share her apology.

“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. 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,” the senior said.

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(Photo: Eakin Howard / Getty Images)

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