Reigning SEC player of year Boston off to slow league start

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston often thinks of unclogged lanes with only one defender to avoid. It’s unlikely that dream becomes reality for the reigning Southeastern Conference player of the year for a while.

Boston is off to a slow SEC start, the 6-foot-5 senior double-double machine held to single-digit scoring and rebounding in her first two league games.

Boston managed just 10 points and 10 rebounds combined in No. 1 South Carolina’s first two league games. She had put up eight double-doubles in her team’s first 12 nonconference games.

Against Georgia last Monday, Boston was swarmed in the paint by up to four defenders hoping to keep her production down.

“It’s definitely new types of junk defenses that we’ve been seeing,” Boston said Wednesday. “As we continue to see it, I think I’m just going to be more aware of it and maneuver a lot better.”

Not that Boston’s single-singles have cost the Gamecocks, who had sizeable wins over Texas A&M (76-34) and the Bulldogs (68-51).

With Boston tied up and denied the ball, that left others on South Carolina’s talent-rich roster to take over. Senior Zia Cooke had a career-high 31 points in the Georgia victory.

“At the same time, my teammates are knocking down the shots,” Boston said. “So if that continues to be the game plan, then they’re going to be sniping.”

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley understands how essential it is for Boston to play at her level for the team to make another national title run. Boston had 30 games in double-figure points and rebounds a year ago as South Carolina won the national title.

When Boston is going strong, so are the Gamecocks.

“We certainly have to get Aliyah Boston going, no matter how they’re going to play us,” Staley said.

Boston is no stranger to having multiple defenders in her way to try to keep South Carolina’s most reliable scorer in check. Staley said when Boston doesn’t produce the way she’s used to, it can take a toll on her mental game.

“I told her just to consider it flattery,” Staley said. “It takes four people, like no one in the country has to guard against all of that.”

Staley thought Boston, who managed just six shots in 31 minutes at Georgia, pressed when the ball couldn’t get to her.

“Teams are really just trying to cancel her,” Staley said with a laugh.

Boston has been a player to count on since arriving at South Carolina four years ago. She had a triple-double in her freshman debut, has 68 career double-doubles and has been held to single-digit scoring in only 18 of 115 games. Boston has never gone three straight without scoring 10 or more points, a feat she hopes to maintain against Auburn (10-4, 0-2 SEC) on Thursday night.

Staley said Auburn and coach Johnnie Harris typically want to play straight-up man defense, perhaps giving Boston and South Carolina’s other post players more room to operate near the basket.

Staley said Boston, a likely No. 1 overall WNBA selection, should head to the pros, where she’ll face fewer defenders waiting only for her — the league has a defensive three-seconds rule — down low.

“Probably has only a few more months to deal with it,” Staley said. “If I’m her, I’m getting out of here.”

Boston said she had a strong practice Wednesday and feels mentally ready for what’s ahead. She, too, thinks about her professional future and the extra space she’ll get to have for her game.

“I’ve definitely thought about it,” she said. “But for right now, while I’m here, it’s adjusting, taking the hit and then just going from there.”

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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