On Kamilla Cardoso’s quietly dominant first start vs. Notre Dame in Paris

Kamilla Cardoso, No. 6 South Carolina’s most prolific player in the preseason, had a career night in the Gamecocks 100-71 victory over the No. 10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Paris Monday night.

But no one is talking about it.

As unfortunate as that is, it was nearly impossible for anyone to upstage freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley’s up-and-under layup that solicited nods from legendary point guard Magic Johnson and NBA superstar Kevin Durant. Or her slick pass between Irish defenders to Te-Hina Paopao that caught her by surprise and prompted coach Dawn Staley to throw her hands in the air. Even Notre Dame freshman Hannah Hidalgo’s record-setting, 31-point collegiate debut looked quiet compared to Fulwiley.

The all-time point-guard-turned-coach came to South Carolina’s post-game press conference giddy beside her freshman phenom. A general observation about Fulwiley: She is soft spoken but not afraid to tell you she’s an elite basketball player.

“I just want people to know that I’m a player who’s going to play till the clock goes off. People don’t know that I’m actually good on defense, so I feel like they should, like, know that,” Fulwiley said. “I worked hard on defense just as well as I work hard on offense. But I feel like that move (the layup) made everybody notice me and I hope that they keep watching.”

Nearly every quiet quip Fulwiley shared with the media after her collegiate debut – the quote above included – made Staley drop her head and smile.

But Cardoso’s 20-points and 15-rebound double-double – a career bests in each stat – also made Staley proud. This is the senior’s moment. And she’s earned it.

“I’m proud of Kamilla because Kamilla has worked for this,” Staley said. “She doesn’t come out and perform the way that she did, she might think the work that she put in, the practice time that she put in, aren’t worth it. But now we’ve got some ammunition to give her because we want more.”

Cardoso came off the bench for South Carolina last season, playing alongside Gamecock great Aliyah Boston in one of the country’s most dynamic post duos. Since then, Cardoso has won a FIBA gold medal and tournament MVP Trophy, been named to the Lisa Leslie Award Watch List for the best center in college basketball and made the 2023-24 Naismith Player of the Year Watch List.

She had a tough start against Notre Dame Monday night. She missed some layups, turned the ball over a couple times and scored just five points in the first half.

But she adjusted well in the second. The 6-foot-7 center and her generous guards exploited single coverage situations en route to sinking 19 of the Gamecocks 70 points in the paint (her other point came from the free throw line) against the Fighting Irish.

But Staley thinks she can do better.

“I mean, she’s better than 9-for-14,” Staley said. “I think she could have made at least four more baskets. So we’ll give her some grace today. But we do want all the buckets that she can get.”