COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Aliyah Boston had a simple goal for the season, one she's more than living up to for No. 1 South Carolina.
“I'm just trying to be dominant,” she said.
Boston took over once more with 18 points and 15 rebounds as the Gamecocks improved to 8-0 against ranked opponents this season with a 74-54 victory over No. 21 Kentucky on Sunday.
Boston, the 6-foot-5 junior All-American, was nearly unstoppable around the basket — she had 10 points and eight boards by halftime — and matched the school mark with her ninth straight game with double-figure points and rebounds.
“Wow,” Boston said when told after the game, seated next to her teammate Zia Cooke. “You hear that?”
It was no surprise to Cooke, who led the Gamecocks with 19 points and has watched Boston's impact from the time both were part of South Carolina's top-ranked recruiting class three seasons ago.
“When she's out there, she looks like a pro,” Cooke said. “I tell her all the time, ‘You look like a pro. Keep doing what you’re doing.'"
If Boston can, she might lead the Gamecocks to the elusive national title they've missed out on the past two seasons. They were 32-1 and rolling with 26 straight wins when COVID-19 shut down the 2020 NCAA Tournament.
Last year, they advanced to the Final Four and missed a pair of inside looks at the end — including one by Boston — to fall 66-65 to eventual national champ Stanford.
Boston isn't caught up in any of that, knowing if she keeps working, the success and titles will come.
“I'm just doing my part to help the team and that's pretty much what's coming out of it,” Boston said.
Boston added five blocks and helped on defense against Kentucky star scorer Rhyne Howard, who made the game's first bucket but went on to finish 2-of-14 shooting for a season-low-tying nine points. Howard came in second in the Southeastern Conference in scoring, averaging 19.7 points.
Robyn Benton had 11 points for the Wildcats.
Kentucky came in off an 84-76 win over No. 15 Georgia this past Thursday and was firing quickly with four 3-pointers to take an 18-14 lead eight minutes in.
After that, it was all South Carolina, which outscored the Wildcats 27-9 the final 12 minutes of the opening half.
Boston's inside basket to start the second quarter put the Gamecocks ahead for good and Cooke had two driving layups to extend the lead.
Freshman Bree Hall had a 3-pointer and another jumper while Victaria Saxton had a pair of putbacks. When Destanni Henderson hit a jumper with just over a minute left, the Gamecocks led by 16 points on their way to a 41-27 halftime edge.
For the Wildcats, Howard opened strongly with a decisive driving basket to go with four rebounds and three assists in the opening quarter. But Howard, who came in averaging nearly 21 points in her 32 career games against ranked teams, missed the final six shots of the half.
“The margin of error is so small against a team like South Carolina,” Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy said. “They made us pay for missing shots.”
The Wildcats shot 29.6% (21 of 71) from the field.
Kentucky: The Wildcats showed the blueprint for beating South Carolina — for a quarter. They made open shots from long range and played tight defense to make the Gamecocks work inside. But with Howard going cold, Kentucky had little chance of beating their first No. 1 opponent since topping Tennessee 66-63 in 2006.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have moved on from the Missouri loss. They held on to No. 1 despite the defeat, then added two more wins over ranked teams to their impressive tally this season.
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley talked extensively about Boston's play this season, saying her star player “is not like anyone else.” Then Staley followed immediately, saying she'll likely hear from her past post star, A'ja Wilson, with a challenge. “I know A'ja Wilson's going to read these quotes and say, ‘nah.' But I know A'ja didn't think about basketball as much as Aliyah thinks about basketball."
Kentucky is going into most SEC games with a distinct size disadvantage and coach Kyra Elzy thinks they're learning to play through it. The Wildcats' tallest player is 6-4 Olivia Owens. The Gamecocks had three players at Owens' height or taller. But Elzy likes the versatility and dimensions like speed and defense her team has shown early in SEC play.
“We're not going to grow, but being undersized causes problems for people on the other end,” she said.
Kentucky returns home to play Mississippi State on Thursday night.
South Carolina takes on No. 25 Texas A&M on Thursday night.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25