COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — On a day South Carolina unveiled a bronze statue of A’ja Wilson, current standout Aliyah Boston shined in a manner not unlike the Gamecocks great.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” coach Dawn Staley said. “If you look across the board at some of (her) dominating performances, those are A’ja Wilson numbers. Aliyah’s right there.”
Boston had 26 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks to lead the fourth-ranked Gamecocks to a 104-82 victory over No. 15 Arkansas on Monday night.
“I’ve been focused on being more dominant,” Boston said. “Coach has made me see how dominant I need to be and I can’t slack off.”
That’s what Staley did for Wilson, a three-time All-America who helped the Gamecocks win the NCAA Tournament in 2017. Staley’s guidance is having a similar effect on Boston, the 6-foot-5 sophomore who’s grown into one of the game’s best.
South Carolina (10-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) has won its past 24 games against conference foes over the past two seasons.
Boston accomplished her fifth double-double of the season by halftime and the Gamecocks pulled away to win for the 14th time in their past 15 meetings with Arkansas (11-5, 2-4).
“It’s not just her size,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said of Boston. “She’s incredibly skilled and she’s incredibly smart.”
The Razorbacks and Chelsea Dungee were the last league team to defeat South Carolina, winning 95-89 in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals two years ago. The Gamecocks haven’t lost against a league team since including the past four with Arkansas.
Boston’s play was again a big reason why. She had six points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the first quarter as the Gamecocks opened a 28-17 lead.
Behind Dungee, the Razorbacks were able to keep things tight. Dungee had five points in a 9-2 burst that cut into South Carolina’s double-digit lead.
Arkansas trailed 62-59 after Erynn Barnum’s basket late in the third quarter. That’s when South Carolina scored nine straight points to gain control. Boston had a three-point play and another bucket in the run.
Staley said the Gamecocks have grown as the season has continued. The difference, she said, is accepting roles to make everyone better.
“I’m pleased and encouraged that we’re moving to having an identity on defense and moving toward a balance on offense,” Staley said. “That’s a good place to be.”
Dungee, the SEC’s leading scorer, had 22 points to lead Arkansas.
Brea Beal had 22 points, setting a South Carolina career high in scoring for a second straight game following the 17 points she had in a 106-43 win at Vanderbilt last Thursday night.
Boston, a sophomore, had her 18th career game with double figure points and rebounds.
THE BIG PICTURE
Arkansas: The Razorbacks have struggled in SEC play, losing to four teams currently ranked in their first six league games. The high-scoring Dungee was only 8-of-18 shooting against the Gamecocks and Arkansas will need more contributions to get things going in the difficult conference.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks look like a different team than they did in early December when they took their only loss, 54-46, to No. 2 North Carolina State. South Carolina’s Boston, Beal and Zia Cooke are all playing at a championship-caliber level.
Wilson was moved to tears at the dedication ceremony on MLK Day, remembering how her late grandmother could not walk on campus and had to avoid the university to get where she was going because she was Black. Wilson wished she were alive to see “the same grounds that houses a statue of her granddaughter.” Neighbors, the Arkansas coach, said he thought that might’ve been the comment of the day in one dedicated to the memory of a Civil Rights leader.
WHY THEY PLAY
Neighbors said he had several people at Colonial Life Arena come up to him to thank him for his team’s dedication to playing. Neighbors pointed out how without these games, ushers and those who work concessions might not get paid. “We know why we’re playing,” he said.
Arkansas is off for a week before playing at No. 22 Georgia on Jan. 25.
South Carolina plays a rescheduled game with No. 22 Georgia on Thursday night.