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Women’s Wednesday: Aliyah Boston and the team that’s taken the country by storm

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“I just love this team.”

While this was how Aliyah Boston ended our interview, it is clearly also a common sentiment for how the freshman feels about her entire first season at South Carolina. 

The Gamecocks have had incredible success this season—they are the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, boast a 22-1 record, and have beaten three top-5 teams. However, that all seemed to come second to the caring and supportive dynamic between the players themselves for Boston.

The 6-foot-5 forward is a dominant presence on the court—leading the team in scoring (13.3 ppg), rebounds (9.1 rpg), and blocks (67).

At the same time, she also knows how to balance that with listening to the more experienced players on the team.

“It’s about knowing what I have to do,” she explained. “I know I need to be aggressive, aggressive in the post. I’m trying to do my part, rebounding, blocking shots, making myself known and being a dominant presence.”

While the young forward has seen a great deal of personal success this season, she credits all that she has been able to accomplish to her teammates. 

“Everything I’ve done this season is because of my teammates,” Boston stated. “I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today. They’ve done a great job of encouraging me, and being there for me. I’ve gotten down on myself because of shots I’ve made or things I don’t think I’ve done well. And they’re always there to pick me back up.”

Boston received a series of accolades in high school, being named Massachusetts Player of the Year by USA Today and  to the Naismith All-America Second Team in 2019—just to name a couple.

Yet, this is the most fun she has had playing basketball. 

“I think this year, Ty [Tyasha Harris] and Kiki [Mikiah Herbert Harrigan] have done a great job of leading us, being the only seniors on the team,” Boston said. “They’re making it fun every day to come to practice and play games.

“Their attitudes, they’re always smiling, they’re always happy,” Boston explained, when asked what the seniors did to make the team fun. “And we’re all competitive.. that’s the best part about it, that everyone’s competing and trying to make each other better.”

Competitive is an understatement when talking about this Gamecocks team, as they come off one of the biggest wins in program history. 

South Carolina beat UConn for the first time ever on Monday night in a 70-52 rout of one of the most storied women’s basketball programs. 

“It was great, I thought we played great as a team,” Boston said, excitedly. “And the atmosphere, the crowd was behind us the entire time.”

Before the game, head coach Dawn Staley and Harris had an important message for the team, having faced UConn in the past.

“Ty [Harris], before the game, told us to stay focused and play hard,” Boston recounted. “And Staley told us as we were prepping to think about it as another game and to not get too ahead of ourselves.”

The Gamecocks led from start to finish, securing a dominant win over the Huskies after eight unsuccessful past attempts. 

Harris had a team-high 19 points and 11 assists, notching her first double-double of the season while not turning the ball over once.

When asked about what the locker room was like after the game, Boston laughed and said, “It was exciting! We were dancing, we were singing. Lots of smiles going around. It was fun.”

South Carolina has six games left in the regular season, and just two against ranked teams. It’s evident the players are hungry to bring their program its second NCAA national championship in four seasons.

“[The win over UConn] definitely boosted our confidence but we just have to stay focused because we still have a lot of games left. We have to stay focused and keep working hard.”

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS AND NOTES

– In one of the biggest matchups of the season, South Carolina beat UConn for the first time ever in a 70-52 victory on Monday night.

Crystal Dangerfield’s whopping 28 points was not enough to give UConn the spark it needed, while senior point guard Tyasha Harris led the way for South Carolina with 19 points. 

– Louisville suffered a pair of upsets, first to then-No. 17 Florida state on Thursday and then to an unranked Syracuse team on Sunday. Formerly the fifth ranked team, Louisville has dropped in the rankings to No. 9, while the Seminoles have moved up to the No. 14 spot.

The Cardinals—who hadn’t lost back-to-back games since February 2017—will face another tough road test when they face off against the No. 4 Wolfpack on Thursday. 

– Then-No. 10 UCLA also pulled off the upset over then-No. 6 Stanford, giving the Bruins a huge boost in the most recent AP Poll as they rose to No. 7 and the Cardinal dropped to No. 8. 

– No. 12 Arizona took down then-No. 9 Oregon State in 65-58 overtime win, which cause the Beavers to drop outside of the top-10 rankings to No. 11. 

– Arkansas made history on Sunday in its 103-85 defeat of Kentucky, marking the most points the Razorbacks have ever scored against an SEC opponent and beating the Wildcats for the first time since 2011. Arkansas went from No. 25 to No. 23 and Kentucky dropped from No. 15 to No. 18.

– N.C. State has won eight-straight games, causing them to soar in the NCAA’s Power 10 rankings from eighth to fourth. The upcoming matchup against Louisville will have major NCAA Tournament seeding implications for the ACC. 

– After beating two ranked teams in a row and coming back from a double-digit deficit in the second half against Texas A&M, Mississippi State rose to No. 7 in Power 10.

– Maryland ranks No. 10 in both the AP Poll and the NCAA’s Power 10 after a three-win week increased its winning streak to nine in a row. A win against Iowa on Thursday would put the Terps on top of the Big Ten.

– With the season at midway point, the Atlanta Tipoff club has released a list of the 30 players named to the Naismith Trophy women’s basketball Player of the Year midseason team. The list will be cut to 10 on March 3, and the winner will be announced April 4. 

Play of the Week: Myah Taylor made big-time plays in Mississippi State’s comeback win over Texas A&M, including this sweet pass to Jessika Carter under the basket:

Player of the Week: Shocker, Sabrina Ionescu secures her 24th career triple-double with a 15-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist performance against Arizona.

UConn women win 91st straight game to break their own NCAA record

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DALLAS (AP) Top-ranked UConn broke its own NCAA record with its 91st consecutive victory, scoring the first 21 points and romping past SMU 88-48 on Saturday.

Coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies (16-0, 4-0 AAC) broke the record of 90 wins in a row that his team first accomplished more than six years ago. They matched that mark with a 65-point rout of No. 20 South Florida last Tuesday.

The four-time defending national champion Huskies haven’t lost a game since falling in overtime at sixth-ranked Stanford on Nov. 17, 2014.

Their first 90-game winning streak broke the Division I record of 88 straight wins by the UCLA men’s basketball team and famed coach John Wooden. That UConn streak also started after a loss to Stanford, in the 2008 national semifinal game, and ended with another loss at Stanford on Dec. 30, 2010.

While the only way UConn will play Stanford this season will be in the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies do have wins this season over second-ranked Baylor, third-ranked Maryland and sixth-ranked Notre Dame – the latter two on the road.

Katie Lou Samuelson scored 28 points, Naphessa Collier added 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds for UConn, while Gabby Williams also had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, along with six assists.

Alicia Froling led SMU (10-7, 1-3) with 16 points and 12 rebounds. The junior from Australia entered the game as the AAC’s top rebound at 10.6 per game.

UConn is 58-0 in American Athletic games in its four seasons since joining that league, plus nine more wins while sweeping through the conference tournament each of the past three seasons.

Samuelson was 11-of-21 shooting and had five 3-pointers while finishing one point short of her matching her career high. She had 10 points in the first quarter, when Collier had nine points and seven rebounds as UConn jumped out to a 26-2 lead.

The Mustangs are 0-7 against UConn, and had lost the first six by an average margin of 51 points.

Not everyone's sold on the UConn women

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Jessica Hill / AP

The Connecticut women’s basketball team hasn’t lost since … forever. It’s won 78 straight games (10 shy of matching John Wooden’s Bruins) and has been atop the AP women’s poll that last 44 weeks (two more weeks will tie another record by Wooden’s Bruins).

The Huskies have the nation’s best player (Maya Moore), loads of talent and have Geno Auriemma on the sideline. But not everyone agrees they’ll be the team to beat this season. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Paul Zeise has Baylor No. 1.

“We aren’t voting on last year’s team, we are voting on this year’s team. And although UConn has the best player, they also have lost a lot of points, rebounds and assists and experience, and will have to rely on a lot of freshmen,” Zeise told the AP. “At some point late in the year they might become the best team, but I can’t imagine they are now.”

And you know what? Auriemma agrees.

“You just ignore all of this preseason stuff,” Auriemma told the Hartford Courant. “It doesn’t carry as much weight as it once did. … It’s all purely on reputation. It’s too much based on what’s happened in the past without any consideration given to the improved competitiveness of teams in our league and around the country.

“Plus, you take 3,000 points [Tina Charles and Kalana Greene] plus Caroline Doty out of our lineup and it doesn’t matter [to the pollsters]? Well, then what does matter? If points on the board don’t matter, what does? It’s like taking three players out of someone’s lineup that all hit 40 home runs the year before.”

We’ll find out fairly early just who’s better, too. Auriemma’s Huskies play Baylor on Nov. 16 in Hartford. If they clear that hurdle, expect a countdown to the Bruins’ mark.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.