Who In The LSU-South Carolina Scuffle Was Ready To Scrap?

LSU-South Carolina has the makings of a great rivalry in women’s basketball: a shared conference, coaches alike in stature though not in dignity, a special post battle, endearing guards. It may be new as rivalries go, but on Sunday it just felt old-fashioned.

Toward the end of the SEC championship game, Flau’jae Johnson committed a hard take foul on South Carolina freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley, shoved a jubilant Ashlyn Watkins, and then was shoved to the floor when Gamecocks starting center Kamilla Cardoso came to Watkins’s defense. The benches cleared; six players including Cardoso were ejected from the game. Some people in the arena were ready to scrap. Some were not. I’ve reviewed the evidence and assigned each party to this incident a Scrap Readiness Score on a 1-10 scale.

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At the beginning of the scuffle, Ashlyn Watkins (wearing No. 2 for South Carolina) starred in a perfect visual gag. The tenacious defender celebrated Fulwiley’s steal, took Johnson’s shove in good spirits, and cheerfully trotted to the bench, unaware of the commotion behind her. She wheeled around when she saw the entire team looking past her, and stayed to trash-talk some more after Cardoso is escorted away. SR Score: 8

Kamilla Cardoso, who also figured prominently in the ending of South Carolina’s semifinal win, took Johnson’s shove more personally. Because of the ejection, she will miss the Gamecocks’ first-round NCAA tournament game. South Carolina is built to withstand the loss of any player, and with the eighth conference championship game win in the last decade, the team locked up the best No. 1 seed in the bracket. Cardoso apologized in a statement she tweeted, and though she engaged in scrapping, her 6-foot-7 height made for a powerful anti-scrapping deterrent. SR Score: 9

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Flau’jae Johnson was not prepared to be shoved by a 6-foot-7 center, but once she peeled herself off the ground, she made a valiant attempt to get back in the fight. SR Score: 8

I cannot quite say the same for Flaujae Johnson’s brother, who hurdled over the scorer’s table, apparently ready to scrap when he saw Cardoso shove his sister. His perceived scrap readiness didn’t quite match his actual scrap readiness. He then realized Cardoso was 6-foot-7 and found himself held back by a pair of phantom arms. SR Score: 3

Aneesah Morrow (wearing No. 24 for LSU) may not have made a big flashy play here, but watch how fast she entered the frame at the six-minute mark. Doing the little things right. Explosive first step. SR Score: 8

For most of the season, it felt like Hailey Van Lith made a big mistake when she transferred to LSU. She looks out of sorts in the offense, and much worse on defense. A kind of “Shaq on the Celtics” tragedy has hung over her all year. But I respect all 5-foot-7 of her for trying to get in Cardoso’s face. This may have been the first time she showed any affection for her LSU teammates. SR Score: 9

Meanwhile, Angel Reese saw the fight and limped in the other direction. Later that night, she explained that a player of her STATUS should not be involved in such nonsense.

I buy Reese’s injury excuse and have followed her career long enough to know her true scrap readiness bona fides. While I can’t offer her a high score here, I can slightly inflate her score so it reflects her stronger track record. SR Score: 2

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Kim Mulkey wished Reese had been shoved instead. The LSU head coach wanted Cardoso to pick on someone closer to her height. “I wish she would have pushed Angel Reese,” Mulkey said in her postgame press conference. “Don’t push a kid—you 6-8. Don’t push somebody that little. That was uncalled for, in my opinion.” SR Score: 4

Mulkey’s counterpart wanted no smoke. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley seemed frozen in disbelief when she saw Cardoso shove Johnson, and she apologized in the postgame sideline interview. “I just want to apologize to the basketball community. When you’re playing in championship games like this, in our league, things get heated. No bad intentions. Their emotions got so far ahead of them.” Staley also said that if Aliyah Boston were on the team, she would have prevented this entire thing, which is 100 percent true. “That would have never happened with last year’s team, because they would have been so political about it,” Staley said. “Aliyah probably would have been the referee and like, ‘No, don’t do that.’” SR Score: 3

With all the major players accounted for, what about the actual referees, whose job it is to dissipate smoke? This official holds Cardoso back at first, but draws the line soon afterward. When Johnson’s brother leaps over the scorer’s table and a police officer leaps after him, she decides she’s had enough.

She makes her exit …

… tiptoes away

… keeps walking …

… and enjoys from a distance. SR Score: 0

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