No. 1 South Carolina without scoring, rebounding leader Cardoso next 2 games for Olympic qualifying

COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 1 South Carolina had to do without top scorer and rebounder Kamilla Cardoso for much of the first half against Mississippi.

The Gamecocks will miss her for the next few games.

Coach Dawn Staley said Cardoso is leaving to join the Brazilian national team for its Olympic qualifying event this week and will miss the Gamecocks next two games at home against Missouri on Thursday night and No. 11 UConn on Feb. 11.

“We want the best players on our team,” Staley said. “But sometimes the best players are the best players that represent another country. When we recruited her, we said if there’s an opportunity to go with your national team, go with your national team.”

Brazil is hosting one of the four-team tournaments that serve as Olympic qualifiers. The Brazilians have a tough pool with Germany, Serbia and Australia in the group. The top three teams qualify for the Paris Games this summer.

“It only makes us feel good,” said Staley, who was the U.S. Olympic coach for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Cardoso, at 6-foot-7, has been the best player on the Gamecocks and a top candidate for Southeastern Conference player of the year, averaging 13.7 points and 10 rebounds a game this season.

Her value was apparent in an 85-56 win over Mississippi on Sunday. Cardoso picked up two quick fouls and had to sit much of the first two quarters as the Rebels got within 32-31 right before halftime.

When Cardoso returned to the court, she fueled a 16-2 run as South Carolina (21-0, 9-0 SEC) took control in an 85-56 victory.

Staley said Cardoso will be missed. But her time on the bench in the first half gave South Carolina forwards like Ashlyn Watkins, Chloe Kitts and Sania Feagin more necessary minutes as they prepare to make up for Cardoso’s points, rebounds and blocks.

“No one has a rim protector like her,” Mississippi coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said.

South Carolina will find that out for itself over the next two games.

___ AP college basketball: and

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