The junior center contributed 16 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks off the bench to help No. 1 South Carolina complete its comeback vs. UCLA. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

South Carolina needed a spark. The No. 1 Gamecocks were struggling with No. 15 UCLA, a team rife with crafty guards and hungry for an upset.

Enter Kamilla Cardoso.

The 6-7 center joined the Gamecocks last season after a successful freshman year at Syracuse, where she averaged 13.6 points and 8 rebounds per game. Playing at South Carolina was different, especially with Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston ahead of her in the rotation.

But Cardoso had clear talent, and on Tuesday, when South Carolina needed her most, the junior stepped up. She contributed 16 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks off the bench to help lift the Gamecocks to a 73-64 win, their 17th straight against ranked opponents.

In tandem with Boston, who was hounded by the UCLA defense, Cardoso owned the paint. Boston finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks, and the post duo impressed head coach Dawn Staley. 

UCLA opted to put a defender on Boston at all times and played a zone around her, helping down anytime she caught the ball. It was a successful strategy for much of the first half, but when Cardoso got going, it proved impossible for the Bruins to guard her and to stop Boston at the same time.

Having Cardoso as another scoring option inside made the difference for the Gamecocks. 

“If they can play together and play like they did tonight, it gives us another layer of people having to scout us in a different way,” Staley said.

The bulk of Cardoso’s contributions came late in the game, as she put up 10 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks in the fourth quarter.

Offensively, her size and strength in the low post was too much for UCLA. The Gamecocks were able to loft the ball up into her outstretched arms, and she finished with ease around the rim. She also grabbed key offensive boards for putbacks that halted any defensive momentum for the Bruins.

And when UCLA’s guards attacked the rim, Cardoso blocked or altered their shots. She helped South Carolina hold UCLA to just 20% shooting in the final period as the Gamecocks pulled away for the victory.

“This is the kind of performance we want to see from Kamilla on a consistent basis, and I think we will,” Staley said.