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Aliyah Boston’s dominance in the NCAA Tournament has reached levels not seen in a half-century.
Boston had 28 points, including all 13 for top-seeded South Carolina in the fourth quarter, and 22 rebounds to send the Gamecocks to the Elite Eight with a 69-61 victory over North Carolina on Friday night.
Along with her first-ever 20-20 game in three college seasons, Boston was the first player — male or female — to have 25 or more points, 20 or more boards and shoot better than 90% at the foul line since UCLA’s Bill Walton did it in 1972 Final Four against Louisville, according to Stats Perform.
It’s a relentless attitude to succeed that Boston has maintained all year.
“Just keeping dominance on my mind,” said Boston, who was 12 of 13 from the foul line and had her 27th straight game with a double-double.
And in the final quarter as No. 5 seed North Carolina cut a 13-point lead to four, Boston continually bailed the tournament favorites out of trouble.
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said it was simply the best player in the game playing her best at the most important time.
“She’s been that for us all season long, but she showed up on the biggest stage at the biggest game,” Staley said. “
The Gamecocks (32-2) will take on 10th-seeded Creighton in the Greensboro Region for a spot in the Final Four on Sunday. It’s South Carolina’s fifth Elite Eight in the past eight NCAA Tournaments.
Deja Kelly led North Carolina (25-7) with 23 points. It was not enough to slow down Boston’s drive to win.
Carlie Littlefield made a 3-pointer from the right corner to draw North Carolina within 63-59, but Boston grabbed Zia Cooke’s missed shot — her 11th offensive board — got fouled and made both free throws.
Anya Poole’s layup made it 65-61 with 2:04 left for UNC. Boston made an inside bucket a minute later, then closed things out with two foul shots with 18.4 seconds left for the final margin.
The Gamecocks were particularly dominant on the boards, topping North Carolina 47-33 overall and 24-7 on the offensive glass.
“I think their offensive rebounding just hurt us,” Kelly said.
The Gamecocks had struggled shooting in recent games, something that continued in this one as they finished 33.8 % from the field — their fourth straight game going less than 36% from the floor.
But their surging defense didn’t let them down, particularly in the second quarter when they held North Carolina to 1-of-9 shooting and improved their lockdown against opponents in that period of the NCAA Tournament to 1 of 31 after three games.
North Carolina tried to pack the middle to combat Boston and South Carolina’s large edge down low. Cooke and Henderson made the Tar Heels pay, scoring a combined 26 points and connecting on six 3-pointers for a 39-31 lead at the break.
The two went cold in the final two quarters, combining for go just 1 of 14 for two points. But Cooke said they were glad to watch Boston take over and keep the Gamecocks going.
“I think she was super dominant tonight,” Cooke said. “She hit some very, very big free throws for us.”
North Carolina: The Tar Heels have plenty to build on. Starters Kelly, Ustby and Kennedy Todd-Williams are all sophomores who will be counted on heavily next season by North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart as the team tries to move in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “The big picture is always important,” Banghart said. “I think it will be easier for me in a couple of days.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks look like they’re playing with a weight, not a chip, on their shoulders. They’ve been motivated all season by the missed shots at the end of last year’s 66-65 national semifinal loss to NCAA champion Stanford. South Carolina is on the precipice of getting back where they’d expected throughout the year.
Before the game, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley met new men’s coach Lamont Paris in person for the first time. Paris was introduced as the Gamecocks coach Thursday and came to see the women’s team in their Sweet 16 matchup.
Staley gave him and the fans advice.
“I hope people are super patient and allow him to grow and make his imprint” on the school, the team and the area, she said.