BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Other than the rainbow braids tied in a ponytail that dangled against the back of South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston’s jersey, there wasn’t much to set the AP preseason All-American apart from her LSU competitors for most of the first three quarters.
And then, as a closely contested game entered its late stages, the 6-foot-5 Boston was a powerful presence under both baskets, and a big reason the fourth-ranked Gamecocks’ winning streak increased to nine games.
“You can’t keep a good player down,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. “She’s going to figure out a way to get to her numbers because she’s a competitor.”
Boston scored 11 of her 20 points in the final 14 1/2 minutes and grabbed 14 rebounds to help South Carolina secure a 69-65 victory over LSU on Sunday.
“She scored enough, she rebounded the ball, she facilitated,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said of Boston. “She played huge minutes for us and I know she was probably tired.”
Destanni Henderson added 16 points and eight assists while Zia Cooke had 11 points for South Carolina (12-1, 7-0 SEC), which won its 26th consecutive game against conference competition.
Khayla Pointer scored 18 and Tiara Young 16 for the Lady Tigers (6-7, 4-3) who’d defeated No. 8 Texas A&M earlier this month and looked primed to stage their second upset of a top 10 team in two weeks when they carried a lead into the fourth quarter.
“We’re still just trying to put together a full game,” Pointer said. “This game, we were tit for tat, right there with SC, one of the best teams in the country, and we just got to find ways to pull it out.
“You can’t be that close in a game like that and then lose it at the end, especially on our home court,” she added.
LSU took a 45-43 lead into the fourth quarter after Faustine Aifuwa’s jumper beat the clock at the end of the third period. Awa Trasi’s layup briefly widened the lead to 47-43 before South Carolina suddenly seized momentum with a 9-0 run.
The Gamecocks are “not a team that flinches, even through mistakes,” Staley said. “They believe in their defense. They believe in things that they can do well and they believe in themselves.”
The pivotal surge began with Boston’s bucket and featured five points by Henderson on a 3-pointer and free throws. LeLe Grissett’s fast-break layup capped the run and made it 52-47 with 7:37 left.
LSU pulled back to 56-55 after Young’s jumper with 3:41 left, but consecutive fast-break layups by Cooke and Grissett ignited a decisive 10-2 Gamecocks run that included more fast-break points for Cooke and Grissett.
South Carolina: While the Gamecocks found themselves in a close contest and behind early in the final period against an LSU team that clearly didn’t fear them, they never faltered long enough the let the game get away from them. Ultimately, their superior talent and ability to execute Staley’s adjustments helped them take over as they controlled the final three minutes of the game for their 11th straight victory in the series.
LSU: The physical presence of the 6-5 Aifuwa and 6-1 Trasi in the front court kept Boston from taking over the game early. Additional scrappy defense from LSU’s backcourt showed how the Lady Tigers can remain competitive in any given game with some of the nation’s top-ranked teams — even as they’ve hovered around .500 overall this season.
SETTING THE TONE
The teams combined to start 0 for 10 from the field before Pointer’s layup tied the game at 2 nearly three minutes into in the opening quarter.
The gritty, physical and defensive-oriented first few minutes foreshadowed a tight and competitive first half during which both teams shot below 34% and neither team led by more than five points.
Boston’s layup put the Gamecocks up 21-19 late in the second quarter.
But LSU tied it on Trasi’s layup and regained the lead at 25-23 when Seay stole the ball from Cooke near mid-court and converted a fast-break layup with a second left before halftime.
The Gamecocks wound up dominating in two key statistics, outscoring LSU 48-32 in the paint and 30-6 on fast breaks.
While Fargas stressed that she “liked the fight of our team” and expressed hope for the Lady Tigers’ growth this season, she also noted that LSU “definitely got exposed late-game when we weren’t scoring the basketball and then they got their transition game going.”
South Carolina visits No. 19 Mississippi State on Thursday night.
LSU visits No. 22 Georgia on Thursday night.
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