GREENSBORO, NC — Aliyah Boston checked one goal off her list on Sunday night.
The biggest one lies ahead.
Though Boston had her double-double streak snapped, her 19 points led the way in helping No. 1 overall seed South Carolina handle No. 10 seed Creighton 80-50 to clinch a spot in the Final Four for the second straight season.
This Final Four appearance is one Boston has worked for since the Gamecocks’ semifinal loss to Stanford last year, when she missed a shot at the buzzer that would have taken them into the national title game. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and the rest of the team have spoken openly about how much they all wanted to return to the Final Four to get another shot at winning a championship.
Most especially Boston.
Now they have it. As the final seconds ticked off the clock on Sunday, Boston raised her arms in the air, did a little dance and screamed, “Let’s go!” Following the postgame handshake line, players ran over to dance and celebrate with the South Carolina band, and soon Boston joined them after doing her postgame ESPN interview.
Although Boston did not have a double-double for the first time in 27 consecutive games, her presence inside the paint caused major issues for the much smaller Bluejays. In order to try to slow down the Gamecocks, Creighton knew it would have to try to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Boston and the post players inside, while relying on its ability to make 3-pointers.
Easier said than done against the leading candidate for player of the year. South Carolina finished with 42 points in the paint, the 13th time it had 40 or more this season — the most in the SEC. Eight of Boston’s nine field goal attempts in the game came from inside the paint. Not only that, South Carolina used its height advantage to beyondbound Creighton 43-23 — limiting the Bluejays to just four second-chance points.
Meanwhile, the suffocating South Carolina defense shut down the 5-out offense Creighton plays and limited the 3-point attempts. Creighton went into Sunday’s contest averaging 10 made 3-pointers per game. But Creighton went 7-of-21 against the Gamecocks, and as South Carolina kept growing its lead, the Bluejays seemed powerless to stop it.
To be sure, the run Creighton made to get to this point was historic. The Bluejays upset three higher-seeded teams on the way to their first Elite Eight appearance, and they became just the fourth double-digit seed to make it to the Elite Eight.
But the game got out of hand early. Boston made it look easy in the first half, with 12 of her 14 first-half points coming in the paint. South Carolina finished the first half with 30 total points in the paint, its most in a half in the NCAA tournament this year. South Carolina went into halftime with a 46-25 lead and never looked back.
Next up, the Gamecocks will play the winner of Monday night’s Elite Eight game between Louisville and Michigan on Friday in Minneapolis, with the possibility of a rematch against Stanford looming — only this time, in the national championship game.