Before Cardoso’s shot, Tennessee was leading South Carolina 73-71 with 1.1 seconds remaining in the game. Harper had a timeout to use, but she said she declined to use it since USC was out of timeouts and any delay would’ve given the Gamecocks more time to prepare.

“And I wanted Tamari (Key) to be in the paint so they couldn’t get a pass to the paint,” Harper said, “and we were trying to get Rickea (Jackson) back there in the play. And, obviously, at the end of a game like that, everybody is a shooter. … We just didn’t do what we needed to to get that defended.”

On USC’s final possession, Key, Tennessee’s starting center and Cardoso’s primary defender, was stationed in the paint with her hands up. Jackson, the Lady Vols’ leading scorer, was positioned on the left wing. Neither was close enough to Cardoso to even marginally contest her 3-pointer at the buzzer.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said postgame that she’d initially hoped for guard to take USC’s last shot in a catch and shoot situation.

But, given how well Tennessee had defended Paopao (three points, 1-8 shooting) all night, Staley was “skeptical” that Paopao could get a good look.

“I just told Raven (Johnson) just throw it high to Kamilla, and I told Kamilla, ‘Pass it to Pao,’” Staley said, before detailing how at the last second she changed plans and simply told Cardoso: “Shoot it.”

“I added some more words to it than that,” Staley said, laughing.

A video of the final play, posted to X (formerly Twitter), also shows Staley appearing to green light Cardoso to shoot the ball, rather than pass it to Paopao.

Cardoso’s game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer was the first three she’s made in her college career, as well as only the second she attempted. Cardoso, a 6-foot-7 center and 2024 All SEC First Team selection, had never shot a three in three seasons at USC; her only attempt came as a freshman at Syracuse.

Staley said postgame that she’s often encouraged Cardoso to take more mid-range jump shots and “maybe this will open the lid for her to shoot a little bit more” going forward for the Gamecocks (31-0).

“Because she’s she’s got a decent shot,” Staley said. “She’s got a decent mid-range. She’s got a decent three. She’s always going to be open. So maybe she’ll be there.”

USC, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, will play either No. 2 LSU or No. 3 Ole Miss in Sunday’s SEC championship game at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville (3 p.m., ESPN).