FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — South Carolina freshman Aliyah Boston shined even brighter than her team’s flashy yellow and orange shoes.
The freshman forward had 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the top-ranked Gamecocks’ 86-65 win at No. 25 Arkansas on Thursday.
It was unclear if the 6-foot-5 Boston would play after she was injured in Sunday’s 69-48 win against Tennessee.
“She was actually a game-time decision tonight,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She didn’t practice the last two days, just trying to rest that lower leg. She felt good in the shoot-around and good warming up. Luckily for us she played.”
Arkansas junior guard Chelsea Dungee said Boston’s length in the low post was a huge factor on both ends of the floor. Dungee scored 16 points, but shot 7 of 25 from the floor.
“She definitely affects the game a lot, both offensively and defensively,” said Dungee, who had one shot attempt volleyball spiked by Boston. “Offensively it’s hard to stop a 6-5, 6-6 player. Then when you drive it, you have to adjust your shot. That makes it difficult.”
Staley said Boston’s shot-blocking ability is uncanny, especially for a young player.
“I guess she has the principle of verticality down,” Stanley said. “She doesn’t lean over too much. I think her ability to block shots, it’s more about understanding personnel. She understands scouting reports and player’s tendencies. So I think part of it is timing, part of it is understanding where people like to go in the floor.
“I’ve never been around a young player that has all of those attributes.”
South Carolina (22-1, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) jumped out to an early 9-0 lead and was never seriously threatened. The Gamecocks led 46-33 at halftime and led by as much as 23 points in the fourth quarter before Staley started substituting as the Gamecocks prepare for a huge game Monday at home against No. 1 Connecticut.
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said his team made too many mental mistakes to compete with the Gamecocks.
“You cannot have any lapses against the No. 1 team in America,” Neighbors said. “They’re too good, too balanced, too well-coached … they’re too everything.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had no problem winning their 16th straight game. They have not lost since November, a 71-57 setback to an Indiana team that still is ranked.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks were coming off an overtime win against Missouri. They have shown marked improvement under third-year coach Mike Neighbors, but the difference in these two programs was clearly evident in one glaring statistic — South Carolina’s 57-31 edge on the boards.
Staley wore a special pair of shoes that paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash in California on Jan. 26.
Staley’s shoes featured images of Kobe and Gianna and included both the No. 24 and the No. 8, which Bryant wore in a Hall of Fame career for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Staley said she was proud of women’s college basketball for scheduling prime-time matchups like her team’s upcoming clash with No. 3 UConn, but she wished the timing of the game were different.
“I think we want to grow our game,” she said. “Obviously, if you look at our UConn series, we haven’t been effective. We haven’t gotten any wins. But the buildup to it adds to it. I don’t prefer to play it in the middle of our conference, but I think it’s great for the women’s game.”
South Carolina will host No. 3 UConn on Monday.
Arkansas will host Kentucky on Sunday.
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