There’s living up to the hype, and then there’s living up to the hype.
Yes, South Carolina had 2019’s No. 1 recruiting class, thanks to top-ranked freshmen Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Laeticia Amihere and Brea Beal (Nos. 3, 4, 10 and 11, respectively, on ESPN’s HoopGurlz rankings). But even the best-of-the-best recruits aren’t necessarily expected to make an impact on the court in their first year — much less in their first week.
Enter Boston, a 6’5 center who made her Division I debut with a triple-double: 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. Ten blocks also happened to tie the South Carolina program record, which Dawn Staley knew as she sent Boston back into the waning minutes of a 103-43 destruction of Alabama State to successfully pad her stats.
“I had no idea, and then Coach was like, ‘You’re two blocks away’ — and then that happened,” Boston said after the game with a self-effacing giggle.
“A triple-double is a triple-double, no matter where it is,” Staley added. “We put her back in because she was so close to it, and we were going to give her two or three minutes to get it done.”
Boston got it done, and in the three games since has proven to be the picture of an immediate influential player: she’s hitting two-thirds of her shots from the floor and has yet to score under double-digits. At one point in South Carolina’s not-all-that-close upset of No. 4 Maryland in College Park, Boston tallied eight points in under five minutes. She wound up the high scorer of the defensive slugfest with 14 points. Four games in, Boston is tied with Rice’s Nancy Mulkey (a 6’9 junior) to lead the league in blocks with 20.
“I didn’t realize she was that much of a shot blocker — I thought she was just blocking shots because she was big,” Staley said of her high school scouting report on Boston after the Maryland game. “But she’s blossoming,”
Staley, who expressed chagrin at her players’ relative lack of preseason praise, has had plenty of opportunities to say “I told you so.” Along with Boston’s triumphs, Cooke had 27 points and seven rebounds vs. Dayton and Beal is averaging 8.5 rebounds a game so far. The Gamecocks have risen to No. 5 in the AP poll, making them the highest ranked team in the SEC — a position they’ll have a great opportunity to defend at the Paradise Jam in the Bahamas next week, where they’ll play No. 18 Indiana and No. 2 Baylor.
Around the top 25
- Sure, No. 10 Mississippi State hasn’t played the toughest schedule — but back-to-back wins over 120 points (the previous school record for a single game had been 118) is nothing to sneeze at. The Bulldogs lead the league in scoring, averaging 104 (!) points a game (a reminder: college games are eight minutes shorter than those in the NBA).
- After starting the season 2-2, Notre Dame is out of the AP’s top 25 for the first time in 12 years. The Fighting Irish will have a shot to re-enter this weekend if they can beat No. 21 Michigan.
- No. 4 Connecticut and No. 2 Baylor both had uncharacteristically close wins. The reigning champs beat No. 22 USF (a team no one should take lightly) by just 12 points (hey, it’s low for them). UConn started the season without its usual gaudy stat lines against Cal and Vanderbilt — though the Huskies appear to have regained a little of their swagger with a 39-point win over Virginia.
- No. 23 Gonzaga’s repping for mid-majors everywhere, entering the AP poll after pushing Stanford to the brink in a tight overtime loss.
- No. 7 Oregon State should already be on everyone’s radar, but a decisive victory over No. 18 DePaul and a preseason WNIT championship justify all the eye emojis you can muster.
Two games to watch
No. 1 Oregon at No. 17 Syracuse (Nov. 24, 4 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
The Ducks’ first game on the road comes vs. the similarly undefeated Orange, who they beat by just two points in Eugene last season. This is going to be a ball.
No. 20 Arkansas at Cal (Nov. 24, 5 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
This will be the first substantive test for the undefeated Razorbacks, who are still riding high after deep runs in both the SEC and WNIT tournaments.