What Aliyah Boston's latest South Carolina milestone means for her Player of the Year case, South Carolina's title hopes

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston set the South Carolina program record with her 73rd double-double on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston set the South Carolina program record with her 73rd double-double on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Aliyah Boston put another South Carolina record in the rearview mirror Sunday and has more to come. The reigning National Player of the Year secured her 73rd career double-double in a 92-46 demolition of Arkansas (17-5, 4-3 SEC) to become the program record-holder.

The 13 points and 14 rebounds in 22 minutes were her 13th double-double of the season for the undefeated No. 1 Gamecocks (20-0, 8-0 SEC). It sent her past Sheila Foster, who set the record 41 years ago and spoke highly of Boston to WIS10 in Columbia. They shared a moment for fans after the game.

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“Whether it’s 23 minutes or 35 minutes, you’re going to get the same performance,” head coach Dawn Staley said.

Boston, a 6-foot-5 senior center, is still solidly in the Player of the Year conversation for 2023. But her numbers aren’t as strong as in seasons past, while those of her competition are busting open. What she could bring to the program, with or without that second trophy, will be more meaningful.

Boston’s numbers dip

Boston is more efficient than last season (59.3 FG%) and averaging more points per play (1.13 to 1.08) as well as points per scoring attempt (1.29 to 1.20), per Her Hoop Stats. But her usage is down (20.8% from 25.6%), as are her points (12.7 ppg from 16.8 ppg) and rebounds (9.7 from 12.5).

South Carolina doesn’t need as much from its star senior as it did in its national championship campaign, partly because she’s seeing far more double- and triple-teams opening up room for teammates.

Even against that pressure, Boston shows she can break through.

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Boston is in the POY conversation thanks to being the best player on the best team in the country. She is the one who draws the heavy defense, creating offensive opportunity for those around her. That will mean a lot in the eyes of some voters. For others, her raw per-game numbers that rank no better than 32nd might betray her, opening the trophy door for SEC mate Angel Reese at LSU or scoring sensation Caitlin Clark at Iowa.

Player of the Year race

Reese is averaging 24.2 ppg (fifth) and 15.6 rpg (second) in 32.2 mpg and a usage rate of 29.7%. The knock against the sophomore transfer is that the Tigers' nonconference schedule was trash, and the SEC won’t put up the level of opponents the ACC or Big Ten would.

Clark, a favorite behind Boston in 2022, is averaging 26.7 ppg (third), 7.6 rpg and 7.5 apg (third). She has the largest usage rate of the three (35.9%) and is the focal point of defenses without the support of Boston. But her team has not been as successful as South Carolina or LSU.

DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow (25.2 ppg, fourth; 11.8 rpg, fifth) is also a top candidate. Stanford’s Cameron Brink is in the conversation for her ability to dominate at multiple levels but has a penchant for fouling out that would likely exclude her. Her 3.4 blocks per game rank second.

South Carolina’s repeat hopes

The Gamecocks are a more complete team than even last season.

Senior guard Zia Cooke, in particular, has been huge for the Gamecocks, averaging 15.9 ppg on a career-best 43.1 shooting percentage. She scored 31 against Georgia earlier this month, 20 against Kentucky and 24 on Sunday against Arkansas. Her 43.1% shooting clip is four points better than her career high, and it’s the first time she has ranked in the top third of the country in the category.

The 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso doubled her scoring average of last season and nearly doubled her rebounds as the premier option off the bench for Staley. Her 9.5 ppg are third on the team, and her 8.4 rebounds rank second.

Whether Boston wins another POY award, she is on track to become the most successful star to leave Columbia’s campus. That includes A’ja Wilson, the two-time WNBA MVP who led South Carolina to its first championship in 2017.

“The things that she’s been able to accomplish, the winning percentage with her in the lineup,” Staley said. “She doesn’t make you forget about the wins that started the success here at South Carolina, but she, certainly [you] can argue, has a pretty darn big impact on the history books as she keeps checking off different things. If she brings us home another one, it puts her in a class by herself.”

South Carolina’s chances to go undefeated

South Carolina’s defense leads the country, allowing 45.7 points per game to opponents. Its offense is also top-10, at 82.4 points per game. The Gamecocks are off until Sunday, when they travel to play Alabama (15-4, 4-2) in a 1 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN.

The biggest tests will first come in Storrs against UConn on Feb. 5. The Huskies (17-2, 10-0 Big East) could be without Azzi Fudd, who reinjured her knee a week ago. The team said it will not release a timeline for her return. UConn is also in danger of falling below the conference minimum for available players (seven) if there are more injuries, as happened earlier this season.

The Gamecocks got the best of UConn in the 2022 national championship game, and that was with former Player of the Year Paige Bueckers on the court.

Inside the SEC, LSU and Tennessee pose the largest threats both in the regular season and the SEC tournament, a hard lesson South Carolina learned last year.

South Carolina will host LSU (19-0, 7-0) on Feb. 12 and travel to Tennessee (16-6, 8-0) on Feb. 23. LSU leads the SEC at 88.2 ppg and 50.9 rpg, while the Lady Vols are third in each (77.9 ppg, 43.7 rpg).