No. 1 South Carolina’s March Madness run begins Friday without center Kamilla Cardoso, coach Dawn Staley confirmed Sunday.

“That’s what they told me,” Staley said when asked if Cardoso would miss USC’s first-round game this week.

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Cardoso was suspended from playing in the game versus the First Four matchup winner (Presbyterian and Sacred Heart) after being ejected for fighting in USC’s SEC Championship victory over LSU last Sunday.

Asked if Cardoso is the only USC player suspended for the NCAA Tournament opener because of the incident, Staley said: “They only told me her as of right now. Things could change but I doubt it.”

If the Gamecocks advance, she will return for their second-round game Sunday against the winner of No. 8 North Carolina and No. 9 Michigan.

Dawn Staley explains Kamilla Cardoso's status for the NCAA Tournament

After nearly four quarters of physical basketball by both LSU and South Carolina and inconsistent officiating, a scuffle broke out with about two minutes remaining in the conference championship game at Greenville’s Bon Secours Arena.

(Earlier in the game, LSU’s Angel Reese pulled Cardoso’s hair and was called for an intentional foul for elbowing Cardoso in the face, busting her lip. Cardoso picked up her third foul early in the game’s third quarter.)

In the altercation where ejections occurred, LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson fouled South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley after she stole the ball for USC.

After the play ended, Gamecock Ashlyn Watkins made her way toward Johnson, who threw an elbow at her. Cardoso then ran over to Johnson and two-hand shoved her to the ground.

South Carolina's Kamilla Cardoso shoves LSU's Flau'jae Johnson, is ejected with 5 other players | AP News

Both benches cleared (except for South Carolina’s Sania Feagin and Te-Hina Paopao).

Johnson’s brother Trayron Milton left the stands and jumped over the scorer’s table onto the court. Police then escorted him off the floor in handcuffs and later arrested him on charges of disorderly conduct and assault and battery.

Cardoso was suspended because she was ejected from the game for fighting, per NCAA rules. South Carolina’s and LSU’s bench players (except for Feagin and Paopao) were also ejected for leaving the bench area.

“We all know that we’re a better basketball team when Kamilla Cardoso is in the lineup,” Staley told ESPN on Sunday. “We’ll make do hopefully until she’s able to come back.”

The center’s absence isn’t likely to have much of an impact on South Carolina’s opening game, though, despite the fact that she leads in team in scoring (14 PPG) and rebounds (9.5 RPG). The Gamecocks have won their last five first-round games by an average of 29.8 points.

Cardoso also missed four games during the regular season, but South Carolina managed to win without her en route to the second undefeated regular season in program history.

Watkins started in Cardoso’s place during the regular season, and will likely start in her place this week. Watkins is averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds her game.

This story was originally published March 17, 2024, 8:57 PM.