If South Carolina basketball fans could have developed a player in a lab to help take the Gamecocks to a new level this offseason, they probably would have described a sharp-shooting guard who could help out Raven Johnson with running the offense. That player would have solid leadership ability and could hold her own on defense. Some ball-handling prowess and finishing ability would have been nice, too.
As it turned out, that player already existed, and Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley found her in the transfer portal. Te-Hina Paopao, an All-Pac 12 point guard from Oregon committed to the South Carolina basketball program from the transfer portal back in April (just three weeks after the Final Four loss to Iowa in which USC struggled to shoot the ball), and the rest has been history.
Paopao has been a perfect fit in Dawn Staley's dual-point guard system playing next to another budding star in Raven Johnson. Generally, when the two share the floor, Johnson runs the point, but Paopao still plays a vital role in running the offense and distributing the basketball to Carolina's loaded roster of talented players. Her leadership skills and mentorship of young guards like MiLaysia Fulwiley and Tessa Johnson have been a huge help to her new team, as well.
On Monday, Paopao was announced as a top-10 candidate for the 2023-2024 Nancy Lieberman Award. The award is given annually to the top point guard in women's college basketball, though, point guard is used a little loosely at times. Raven Johnson did not make the top-10, but she has had a very good season, too.
Paopao's inclusion on the list is well-deserved. She is the SEC's leading 3-point shooter in terms of percentage (55.8%), is in the top-5 in overall scoring efficiency (1.5 points per shot), is in the top-10 in assists per game (4), and is 25th in the league in points per game (12.5 points per game). She's played good defense, too, averaging over a steal per contest while only committing 7 total fouls this year.
While the Lieberman Award likely will go to one of the previous winners (UConn's Paige Bueckers won in 2020-2021, and Iowa's Caitlin Clark won in both 2021-2022 and 2022-2023), being in the discussion is a tremendous honor for Paopao, and the South Carolina basketball team is a real national championship contender largely because she is in Columbia.