South Carolina coach Dawn Staley told All-American Aliyah Boston earlier this month that she needed to become more dominant after a slow start to the season.
Boston scored a career-high 29 points on 13 of 13 shots and propelled the top-ranked Gamecocks to a 79-42 victory over North Carolina A&T on Monday night.
The 6-foot-5 junior totaled 28 points in her first three games and was shooting just over 50%. Staley spoke to him ahead of South Carolina’s trip to the Battle4Atlantis, saying Boston needed to be more assertive.
“And I think after that game I realized I had to do what I had to do,” Boston said.
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His dominating stretch started with 23 points in an opening tournament victory over Buffalo. Boston continued with 16 points to fend off Oregon, then ninth in the standings, and was unstoppable with 22 points and 15 rebounds in a 73-57 victory over No.2 UConn to win the title.
The Gamecocks improved to 8-0 for the first time since the 2015-16 season. And they did it thanks to Boston, which collected 18 of South Carolina’s 27 consecutive points on a 10-minute streak in the second and third quarters to fend off the winless Aggies (0-6).
Boston added 14 rebounds, one out of its season high, and three blocked shots in its 20 minutes of action. She also made her two free kicks, each finishing a three-point game.
Staley said Boston has risen to the challenge in recent games by working harder and taking that attitude on the pitch.
“When you approach the game like that, you set yourself up for a perfect night,” Staley said.
South Carolina was a unanimous No.1 pick in the latest rankings released earlier Monday. But, with the exception of Boston, the Gamecocks didn’t watch the game early on against the Aggies.
North Carolina A&T drew 18-15 over the jumper Chanin Scott with 8:11 left before halftime. That’s when Boston led a 22-0 breakout push, scoring 11 points, including their fourth at 3 points.
When Laeticia Amihere led the basket for a layup 1.4 seconds from the end, South Carolina was leading 40-15.
Boston continued their dominant play after the break, scoring South Carolina’s first nine points in the third quarter. His indoor jumper with 6:50 left in the period broke his previous record of 28, set against Florida on New Years Eve.
Boston’s 13 field goals were also a career record, surpassing the 11 she scored in that victory in Florida last season.
Boston came out soon after to a loud cheer and spent the remainder of the game shooting for her top-ranked teammates.
“Aliyah is obviously extremely talented, but it’s really tough planning the game for them,” Aggies coach Tarrell Robinson said. “She takes advantage of it because she has such a high engine.”
Amihere finished with nine points and Zia Cooke 8 for South Carolina.
North Carolina A&T is having its worst start in Robinson’s 10 seasons. Scott had seven points to lead the Aggies, who shot 22% (14 of 63) from the field.
THE BIG PICTURE
North Carolina A&T: The Aggies are making their debut season in the Big South Conference after winning three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournaments in Robinson’s first nine seasons. Chances are they won’t face too many teams in their new league like South Carolina.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks, already with top-10 wins over North Carolina State, Oregon and UConn, have clearly established themselves as the favorites for the national title this season. They are deep, talented and intelligent and will be hard to beat if Boston continues to play like this.
Starting playmaker Destanni Henderson only played 15 minutes and came out with a compression sleeve on his left leg. She was limping after the game. Staley said Henderson, a senior, was being checked out. Freshman Raven Johnson is expected to spell Henderson this season. is out for the season with a knee injury. Staley said his next option would be the 6-4 Amihere, which the coach described as fearless.
When Boston left the game for good in the third quarter, she mocked her teammates, who joked with her that she had scored about half of South Carolina’s points so far. “I just thought it was pretty funny,” Boston said.
North Carolina A&T: Welcomes the State of South Carolina on Saturday.
South Carolina: Continues their home game against Kansas State on Friday night.