Aliyah Boston

Aliyah Boston

Aliyah Boston

COLUMBIA, S.C. — After South Carolina women’s basketball closed its Thanksgiving weekend with a perfect 2-0 record and a tournament title in South Dakota, coach Dawn Staley noted that she was especially happy about one thing.

“One thing I like is, Aliyah Boston did not have a very Aliyah Boston type of tournament, and we still were able to win these basketball games,” Staley said.

The Gamecocks’ star sophomore forward, voted preseason All-SEC and All-American after taking the sport by storm as a freshman, wasn’t bad that weekend, with wins over South Dakota and then-No. 21 Gonzaga. She scored in double figures, rebounded decently well and even had a four-steal game. But she wasn’t quite as dominant as Staley and USC fans have come to expect.

And as fifth-ranked South Carolina prepares to open SEC play against Florida on Thursday, Boston has shown flashes of brilliance, such as a 13-point, 15-rebound performance against Iowa State. But in the admittedly small sample size of six nonconference games, she hasn’t been the overwhelming force many observers expected.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to face Mississippi, but the game was postponed Monday due to coronavirus issues within the Rebels’ program. Thursday’s game replaces the scheduled USC-Florida matchup originally set for Feb. 25.

Some of the main statistics one might look at don’t appear to have changed all that much. After averaging 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as a freshman, Boston is currently averaging 11.5 points and 9.7 rebounds this year.

But look beyond the scoring and rebounding totals, and the extent to which Boston isn’t quite as sharp becomes clear.

Her true shooting percentage has dropped from 63.5% a year ago, one of the best marks in the country, to 44% now, according to Her Hoop Stats. And that decline has come even as she has gotten more comfortable taking 3-point shots, making them at a better rate than she did a year ago.

The main culprit has been Boston’s percentage on 2-pointers, most of which for her come right around the basket. Operating in tight space with defenders swarming all over her, Boston is making 50% of her 2-pointers, a decline from 64% as a freshman.

Staley has been vocal in pushing all her post players to be better at finishing layups through traffic, saying before the Gamecocks’ last game against Temple on Dec. 17 that she had focused in practice on “just really packing it in and giving our post players some things that will allow them to operate in the space that defense has given them, what very little space that defense has given them.” On the rebounding side of things, Boston numbers haven’t dropped off quite as much, but there’s still been a slight decline. After ranking in the top 25 nationally in offensive and total rebounding rate last year among qualified players, Boston is in the top 100 this year, but her percentages have declined around 3% for offensive, defensive and total rebounding rate.

Perhaps most surprising, however, is one statistic that has barely changed at all thus far.

After posting a usage rate of 20.6% as a freshman, Boston is at 20.2% so far in her sophomore campaign. (Usage rate is how often a player finishes a possession.)

Going into her second year, Boston was expected to become even more integral to Staley and South Carolina’s game plan. Instead, guards like junior Destanni Henderson and sophomore Zia Cooke have taken on more of the offensive load, along with fellow sophomore forward Laeticia Amihere.

Boston remains a central figure for USC and will continue to be so moving forward, a few early struggles aside. But defenses have increasingly keyed in on her, crowding the paint to frustrate and restrict her movement, and with SEC play about to begin, the physicality in the lane is likely to only increase.