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Dawn Staley: Aliyah Boston ‘is still the best player in the country’

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston has faced stiff defensive pressure all season. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

Aliyah Boston has eight double-doubles through 14 games so far this season for South Carolina women’s basketball. For the reigning national player of the year, that counts as a down year.

The 6-foot-5 senior forward faced quadruple coverage against Georgia, finishing with just four points and five rebounds. While she kept the defense occupied, which allowed her teammates to find open shots, she admitted to frustration with the relentless pressure.

“In the moment it’s kind of frustrating for me, just because I’m trying to maneuver around it and really figure it out,” she said Wednesday. “I’m making sure I’m poised and being careful and finishing my shots around the rim.”

The likely No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, Boston had 30 double-doubles in 37 games last season en route to the national championship, and she has 68 in her career. But she has been held to single digits in scoring and rebounding in the first two SEC games of this season. She’ll try to break that streak at 7 p.m. ET Thursday as No. 1 South Carolina (14-0) takes on Auburn (10-4).

For Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley, the attention Boston receives from every opponent just proves she is the player to beat in college basketball.

“She’s still the best player in the country,” Staley said Wednesday. “I don’t care what people post or say or whatever, no one’s seeing what she’s seeing. And until someone is seeing that, then you really can’t take her national player of the year award away.”

Boston is averaging 11.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, the lowest totals of her career and down from 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game last season. Yet while her stats are down, she’s opening up the floor for other players.

Take Monday’s 68-51 win against Georgia. Boston managed just six shots in 31 minutes, but senior guard Zia Cooke scored a career-high 31 points.

“You pick your poison, and they chose to allow us to shoot outside shots,” Staley said. “But we certainly have to get Aliyah Boston going. No matter how they’re going to play her, we’ve got to get her going.”

The coach told Boston to think of the defensive pressure as “flattery.” She also knows Boston can look forward to more favorable conditions in the WNBA, where defensive 3-second violations (which do not exist in the college game) will limit opponents.

Plus, pro teams will feature even more scoring threats, forcing defenses to spread their bets.

“The glory days are ahead of her when she’ll see one-player coverage,” Staley said.