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Meet the queens of March Madness: South Carolina guard Te-Hina Paopao


Te-Hina Paopao bookends every basketball game with two distinct rituals. Before the game...

TE-HINA PAOPAO: I'm just, like, a boring person for pregame rituals. I always got to get a nap in, no matter if it's a noon game, a afternoon, or even a night game.

SHAPIRO: Then, win or lose, afterwards, it's time for dessert.

PAOPAO: It has to be Pizookie from BJ's or a milkshake from Cook Out or chocolate. Oh, my gosh. I love chocolate candy, like Peanut M&Ms, Reese's, Kit-Kat - any of those.


Mmm. It's been a banner year for women's college basketball, with viewership up 60% across national networks. Now, with March Madness upon us, we've talked with some of the star players poised for a deep run in the NCAA tournament - today, a South Carolina guard with a sweet tooth and a penchant for siestas, Te-Hina Paopao.

SHAPIRO: She grew up in Oceanside, Calif., with brothers who played many sports. Eventually, when she jumped in, something clicked on the basketball court, and people noticed.

PAOPAO: When I was entering the eighth grade, when I was getting calls from colleges and talking to college coaches - and I knew right then and there that I could do something big with this.

CHANG: Fast-forward about eight years and, this season, Paopao transferred from Oregon to South Carolina - to a powerhouse program which went undefeated this season.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: There she is again. (Shouting) Paopao...


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: ...three for three behind the three-point line.

SHAPIRO: A key part of their success has been Paopao's long-range shooting. At the end of the regular season, she had the highest three-point percentage in all of women's Division I basketball.

CHANG: But when it comes to her inspiration, for Paopao, it's not about accolades or fame. It's about her faith and her family's heritage.

PAOPAO: I know God has been there through every step of the way, through this journey that I've been journeying through since, you know, a young child - the name on the back because I take so much pride into wanting to make my family proud of me and just wanting to inspire the younger generation, especially for Polynesian hoopers.

SHAPIRO: She's not ready to go pro yet. Earlier this month, Paopao announced she'd return to South Carolina for a fifth season this fall.

PAOPAO: It wasn't a hard decision at all. And I knew if I had another year under Coach Staley that I could be a much more all-around player and just get that improvement that I came looking for. And it was just everything I was looking for into a program.

CHANG: The next order of business this season for Hall of Fame coach Dawn Staley and the South Carolina Gamecocks is the NCAA tournament starting on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEYONCE SONG, "BREAK MY SOUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kathryn Fink
Kathryn Fink is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.
Jason Fuller
[Copyright 2024 NPR]