- Associated Press - Thursday, December 31, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Aliyah Boston, despite her strong early numbers, knew she wasn’t where she had hoped to be this season.

She took a huge step in the right direction against Florida on Thursday.

Boston, the 6-foot-5 sophomore, had a career-best 28 points along with 16 rebounds and No. 5 South Carolina opened Southeastern Conference play with a 75-59 victory over Florida.

Boston came in averaging 11.5 points and 9.7 rebounds, good, but not good enough in her opinion.

“I definitely think I was holding me back,” she said.



No one could hold her back in this one. Boston hit a career best three 3-pointers and took a court-length drive after a missed Florida shot for a basket right before halftime.

It’s a broadening of her game, Boston said, after a she was the SEC’s freshman and defensive player of the year in 2019-20.

“She’s had some great days for us,” Dawn Staley said. But “she’s been a fraction of who she’s been over the first part of the season.”

It was the 13th straight win over Florida (7-2) for South Carolina (6-1), which also won for the 20th consecutive time against SEC competition.

Zia Cooke had 26 points for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina hadn’t played in two weeks since its 103-41 home victory over Temple on Dec. 17. And it looked as if the Gamecocks wouldn’t get this one in, either, when originally scheduled opponent Ole Miss had to postpone due to COVID-19 issues.

But Florida stepped in - the Gators were originally scheduled to come to South Carolina on Feb. 25 - to start SEC play.

Early on, the Gators looked fully capable of hanging with the Gamecocks and were down only 16-13 after Lavender Briggs had two straight baskets in the second quarter. That’s when Boston and the Gamecocks got going with a 15-0 run to take control.

Boston had nine points in the surge and Cooke, the team’s top scorer this season, had four points.

When Boston slipped in a 3-pointer, the Gamecocks were up 31-13 and cruising.

“I hate to be cliche, but you can’t stop her, you can only hope to contain her,” Florida coach Cam Newbauer said.

Boston closed the half in dominating fashion, pulling down missed shot under the Florida basket with six seconds left, rushing up the court and stopping to pop a short jumper.

Boston gave Staley a little wink after the shot went in. “It wasn’t a wink” her coach joked. “She was trying to get her next breath” after the long run.

Boston reached a double-double by halftime with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Boston had her third double-double this season and 16th of her career. She also had four of South Carolina’s 10 blocks and a career best with three 3-pointers.

Florida cut a 22-point lead to 57-47 late in the third quarter, but the Gamecocks opened the final period with an 6-1 burst to restore the large lead.

Briggs tied her career high with 23 points to lead the Gators.

THE BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators filled in when South Carolina’s game with Ole Miss was called off due to the Rebels’ coronavirus issues. The move gave Florida a run of the SEC’s top teams. After defending champion South Carolina, the Gators play No. 9 Texas A&M; on Sunday and No. 12 Mississippi State on Thursday.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks lowered a banner from the arena rafters before the game, celebrating the team’s 2019-20 season when they went 32-1, won both the SEC regular and tournament titles and were ranked No. 1 in the country when COVID-19 shut down the NCAA Women’s Tournament. The banner features a big “#1” with “Final National Ranking” and “Unamious.”

UP NEXT

Florida: Hosts No. 9 Texas A&M; on Sunday.

South Carolina: At Alabama on Monday night.

___

More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/Womenscollegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Poll: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll

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