Gamecocks' Aliyah Boston is letting her game speak for itself
Early struggles disappear as she finds her rhythm
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Aliyah Boston’s freshman year was one for the ages - and record books.
The 6’5 forward for the South Carolina Gamecocks received numerous accolades including National Freshman of the Year, SEC Freshman of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-SEC First Team and Lisa Leslie Center of the Year. She became the first player in Division I history to record a triple-double in her collegiate debut (12-12-10) against Alabama State.
Understandably, Boston came into her sophomore year with more expectations after being named to several high-profile watch lists and as a preseason All-American pick.
But her performance the first few games of the season were a surprise. Her game wasn’t the same. Her numbers weren’t the same. Her shooting wasn’t the same. She wasn’t the same.
“I was definitely not playing the way I usually play,” she said. “I was just trying to figure things out and was looking at the way teams play me and I guess I wasn't letting the game come to me. I was trying to do more than what I really needed to.”
While working through her dry spell, she also received some tough love from head coach Dawn Staley along the way.
“At first she was patient and then she was urging me to demand more from myself and I think that really helped me,” Boston said. “I knew I just needed to go back to how I was. I had to go back to being aggressive.
“I’m just glad the coaches and my teammates were patient with me because I know it was probably frustrating,” Boston continued. “But I think the last couple of games we’ve played I’ve let the game just come and not really force anything that didn't need to happen.”
With a renewed mindset as she returned to the court and in the Gamecocks’ SEC opener last week against Florida, Boston finished with a career-high 28 points, a season-high 16 rebounds (second-most in her career), four blocks, also a season-high, and three steals. The Gamecocks won that game 72-59.
“That game, I don’t know. It just happened,” Boston recalled. “I was just playing and scoring. I wasn’t trying to force myself. I was just trying to score in the space they gave me. I was excited we won.”
And her teammates?
“They were hyping me up,” Boston said with a laugh. “They were telling me about my stats and I was like, ‘I don’t even think I have that.’ ‘Ten rebounds? I’m not sure.’ I was just focused on the game and then after the game everything came to me and I realized what happened.”
Boston said the way she played in that SEC opener against Florida “is the way I’m capable of playing all the time. But again, it also shows that I wasn’t trying to force anything that didn’t need to happen.”
After the game, Staley said she wants Boston to maintain her consistency.
“With a player like Aliyah you have to stay consistent. She’s had some great days for us and we have been one to preach don’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows.
“She has been a fraction of whose she’s been over the first part of the season and for us, you just stay at it,” Staley said. “She mixed in points in the paint, outside and mid-range shots, the threes. I think she did a good job of even giving up some shots she would have taken. So she has some sacrifice to her game. She had a breakout game.”
While Boston appears to have found her groove, fans will have to wait to see her in action again.
On Thursday, South Carolina’s women’s basketball team announced that following the results of COVID-19 testing, it was pausing all team activities until further test results are received. That postponed Thursday's game against Georgia. The team's next scheduled game is Sunday at Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Boston continues to rack up achievements. On Thursday she, along with teammate Zia Cooke, was named to the John R. Wooden Award presented by Wendy's Women's Midseason Top 25 Watch List. Boston and Cooke are the Gamecocks' top two scorers this season.
Boston is averaging 12.8 points and 10.5 rebounds on the season, registering six double-figures scoring and four double-digit rebounding games already. Her 10.5 rebounds per game rank 27th in the nation and are third in the SEC. She is one of two SEC players to average a double-double AND rank among the league's top 10 in blocked shots, as her 1.6 blocks per game come in sixth.
Still only a sophomore, her presence on the team is vital and the physicality she brings is right on time.
“I think I bring aggression in the post and I’m hoping to be able to stretch the floor a little bit more now with me expanding my outside game. So I’m just hoping I can do that to help my team as well and not just have to score only in the paint.”
Her only focus coming into the season, she said, was to get better overall and help the team continue to win. “As long as we do that, everything is alright.”
Boston, a native of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, said she has dreams of playing in the WNBA - “my goal since I started playing basketball” - like her favorite player, Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks.
“When I first started playing basketball, I really looked up to Candace Parker because she could do like anything she wanted with the ball at any time; bring the ball up, shoot the three and get to the basket whenever she wants,” said Boston, showing that she’s obviously studied Parker’s game. “I just thought that was amazing and it still is. She is my favorite.”
While she continues to hope for that dream to come true, Boston is set on honing her craft and being the best she can be.
“I want people to say about me that I was a great, legendary player and that they saw improvement in my game. I don’t want to do the same thing every time. I want them to say they saw how I got better and just noticed the little things I did to improve the game.”