Dawn Staley, South Carolina women's basketball escape North Carolina with road victory

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — South Carolina women’s basketball faced its first real test of the season Thursday, but the Gamecocks escaped Carmichael Arena with a 65-58 win over No. 24 North Carolina.

The No. 1 Gamecocks (6-0) have not lost to a ranked opponent since falling to No. 21 Tennessee in February 2021, and their last regular-season loss was against Missouri in December 2021. The victory marked South Carolina’s third in the last three meetings with the Tar Heels (5-3), with the previous two coming in the NCAA Tournament.

South Carolina was led by Bree Hall with 15 points, but Te-Hina Paopao wasn’t far behind with 14 points, including shooting 3-of-6 from 3-point range. While center Kamilla Cardoso had a disappointing performance offensively, she still dominated as a rebounder with a career-high 16.

Offense overcomes sluggish first quarter

It took the Gamecocks nearly five minutes to get points on the board against the Tar Heels with four turnovers and no baskets across their first seven possessions. Raven Johnson finally ended the drought with a mid-range jumper at 5:20 left in the first quarter. None of South Carolina's bench players had points at halftime, and the Gamecocks' 26 first-half points were its fewest of the season.

South Carolina went on a 7-0 run and took its first lead of the game with just under six minutes left in the third quarter. The team's shooting drastically improved after halftime: It hit 34.5% from the field in the first half to 44.4% in the second, and it made five of its six 3-pointers in the second half.

North Carolina battles on the boards

South Carolina entered Carmichael Arena leading the country in both defensive rebounds and rebounding margin. The Gamecocks trailed on the boards 26-18 at halftime, and they were down 9-3 on offensive rebounds. UNC finished with 45 rebounds to South Carolina's 39.

North Carolina figured out how to lock up South Carolina in the paint, and Cardoso struggled offensively throughout the game. The senior finished with six points for just her second game without a double-double this season. The Gamecocks shot 7-of-17 on layups and allowed a season-worst seven blocks.

Foul trouble plagues both teams

The game was tightly officiated with a combined 23 fouls called in the first half alone. The Gamecocks finished with 20 personal fouls to North Carolina's 25, though UNC shot better at the free throw line hitting 70.6% to the the Gamecocks' 68.2%.

South Carolina's second-half comeback was aided by foul trouble for UNC center Maria Gakdeng, who quickly picked up her fourth foul in the third quarter. UNC star Deja Kelly and Cardoso both fouled out in the fourth quarter. Gamecocks sophomore Ashlyn Watkins also spent time on the bench with four fouls. Both Watkins and Kelly were assessed technicals in the first quarter after a dust-up.

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This article originally appeared on Greenville News: South Carolina women's basketball escapes North Carolina in 65-58 win