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Kamilla Cardoso leads No. 1 South Carolina to 79-68 victory over Texas A&M in SEC Tournament

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley spent all season teaching her young, undefeated team. Those lessons, she stressed, must carry into the Southeastern Conference Tournament if the top-ranked Gamecocks hope to achieve their championship goals.

Kamilla Cardoso scored 17 points and Tessa Johnson had 13 as South Carolina beat ninth-seeded Texas A&M 79-68 Friday in the SEC Tournament and reached 30 wins for a third straight season.

The Gamecocks (30-0) will play fifth-seeded Tennessee in Saturday's semifinals. It will be the third time South Carolina has faced the Lady Vols since Feb. 15.

It was no walkover for usually sharp South Carolina. The team had 10 turnovers in the first quarter and finished with a season-worst 24. The offense took some time to warm up after nearly a week off since its last game, and Staley grew visibly frustrated as the period wore on.

“I don't think they met the moment,” Staley said.

Aicha Coulibaly had a career-high 32 points, 26 in the second half, to lead Texas A&M (19-12), which lost its fifth straight to South Carolina.

After getting pushed around at times by the Aggies, the Gamecocks responded with Cardoso dominating down low and the team relying on defense to open up a 14-point lead in the third quarter.

South Carolina leads the SEC in defense and held the Aggies to 30% on 3-pointers (6 of 20) and forced 14 turnovers.

“Yes, we won a lot of basketball games, but there are a lot of things we need to work on, a lot of deficiencies that we need to work on,” Staley said. “This team has responded time in and time out, and they're going to have to respond now that's it's a win-or-go-home situation.”

The Aggies briefly pulled ahead 17-16 on Lauren Ware's jumper. But behind Johnson's seven points, South Carolina went on a 17-5 run for a 33-22 lead at the break.

“We were just playing basketball,” said Johnson, a freshman. “It wasn't the greatest basketball, but we were just finding our teammates."

The Aggies got within 62-53 early in the fourth quarter. But Cardoso hit two free throws and Te-Hina Paopao, who finished with eight points, made a 3-pointer to restore the large lead.

Coulibaly said the team showed it deserved to be an NCAA Tournament team by defeating eighth-seeded Mississippi State here Thursday and not backing down against the league's regular-season champions.

“I feel like our chemistry is really good right now,” she said. “We've just got to build off of that.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M: The Aggies had a strong game plan to disrupt South Carolina's flow on offense that worked during the first 20 minutes. But the Gamecocks had too much speed, strength and length.

South Carolina: Staley wasn't happy with the early miscues. But the Gamecocks have managed to win throughout the season, despite slow starts. The job will certainly get tougher as the tournament continues.

JOHNSON'S BLOCK

Tessa Johnson had her first college block in her first postseason game at South Carolina. Johnson blocked Sole Williams' attempt at a layup. When asked about it, Staley joked, “What block?” before going on about the freshman's intelligence and awareness on the court that puts her in good positions to make defensive plays.

UP NEXT

Texas A&M: Awaits its postseason selection.

South Carolina: Faces Tennessee in Saturday's semifinals.

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball