South Carolina star Aliyah Boston dominates with 28 points, 22 boards in Sweet 16 win

GREENSBORO, NC — When South Carolina needed to put the game away in the fourth quarter against North Carolina in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, the Gamecocks predictably turned to their best player.

And Aliyah Boston dominated in an entirely new way.

Boston scored all of South Carolina’s points in the final quarter, leading the No. 1 seed Gamecocks to the Elite Eight with a 69-61 win. Despite North Carolina’s best efforts to limit her points in the paint, Boston was able to take over the game in large part due to her offensive rebounding, second-chance points and free throws.

She finished with 28 points and 22 rebounds, the first time in her career she went for more than 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game. It was just the fourth time in NCAA women’s tournament history that a player had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a game.

Asked in the postgame news conference whether she was demanding the ball in the fourth quarter, Boston said no, then added, “I probably should have,” before chuckling.

“I was just being patient, and a lot of it came off of rebounds because they took expected shots,” she said. “I was able to just be there for the rebound, so I just tried to crash the boards.”

The Gamecocks will face No. 10 Creighton on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.

North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart and her players decided the best game plan Friday night would be to stop points in the paint. While South Carolina was held below its average in that category to a season-low 20 points, its improved perimeter shooting allowed the Gamecocks to grow their lead to double digits when the third quarter ended.

But the Tar Heels made another run after shutting down South Carolina’s perimeter shooting, closing the gap to four with 2:02 left to play. There was only one problem: stopping South Carolina from making 3s is not enough when Boston is on the floor. Her layup with 55 seconds left essentially sealed the victory. Eight of her 13 fourth-quarter points were second-chance points, an area South Carolina dominated throughout the game.

“I’ve watched them on film in preparation. It’s not only us that it’s happening to, right?” North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart said. “She’s generational in that way with how her body has transformed. She’s powerful and strong. She has kind of dancer footwork. She’s relentless.

“She’s an excellent — I wish she was old enough to go to the pros. I would be sitting in the front row celebrating her to be drafted because I think I’ve seen enough. I had one chance, and I’ve seen enough of Aliyah Boston.”

Teammate Victaria Saxton said the Gamecocks sensed something special was happening in the fourth quarter.

“I think that us coming together and just telling her: We need you to go in there and be dominant. When you get the ball, go score,” Saxton said. “I really loved watching that, being a part of it, and just seeing her do what she do.”

For her part, Boston said she wanted to keep dominance on her mind throughout the quarter.

“Just crashing the boards. We talked about that. Making sure that, once they’re taking expected shots, we’re just going to crash the boards. And I was able to do that.”

At this point in her career, it is hard to find new braces to describe what Boston does on a court. The numbers can speak for themselves. She now has a double-double in 27 straight games, and had a double-double in each half of the game. She nearly had a double-double in the fourth quarter alone — she had a program-record-tying nine rebounds in the fourth quarter.

“If you look at the games that we’ve played, the big games that we’ve played, she’s been dominant,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She has goals in mind. Obviously, the big goal is to win a national championship. That’s what she’s been talking about. That’s what that whole group has been talking about.

“She has goals and wanted to win a National Player of the Year. And some people can have those goals and not deliver and have people guessing as to what it is. She goes out there and performs. There’s nobody that has performed at the highest level against the best competition in our country consistently all season long, and I think she wants it.”

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