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Player of the Year hopefuls on stage in SEC showdown

by Pete Iacobelli AP Sports Writer | February 11, 2023 at 2:22 a.m.
South Carolina's Aliyah Boston in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UConn, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Angel Reese thought hard about joining South Carolina when she was transferring from Maryland last offseason.

If she had, there might not have been enough points or rebounds for anyone other than herself or hypothetical teammate Aliyah Boston.

That would've worked for Gamecocks Coach Dawn Staley, no matter who she had to sit. "There's always room," Staley said Friday, "for Angel Reese."

Reese and Boston, the two most dynamic players and reliable double-double producers in the SEC will be center stage when the top-ranked Gamecocks (24-0, 11-0) face Reese's LSU Tigers (23-0, 11-0) in a Super Bowl Sunday showdown.

Reese, the 6-3 sophomore, has 23 consecutive double-doubles, an SEC record to start a season.

Boston, at 6-5, is the reigning AP player of the year and has continued her consistent success in her fourth season. She has 76 career double-doubles, a South Carolina career record, and 16 in 24 games this season.

Reese knows Sunday's focus is on her against Boston. But it should be the Tigers against the Gamecocks.

"Our team knows what we have and they know what they have," Reese said. "I think it's great for women's basketball overall. It's going to be a great game."

LSU with Reese is now in elite status in Coach Kim Mulkey's second season, with the Tigers right on the heels of SEC's current powerhouse team.

Reese leads the SEC with 23.5 points and 15.8 rebounds a game. Boston is second in boards.

"I hope they both declare early" to turn pro, Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said of Reese and Boston.

The two are similar forces around the basket, skilled in their movement who are impossible to slow down, he said.

"What do you tell a kid? Box out? That's not going to do it," Neighbors said. "There's not really a solution to some of the things that they do."

Boston's minutes have decreased because South Carolina has had control of most games by halftime. She was two rebounds away from her ninth consecutive double-double in Thursday's 83-48 win at Auburn. Staley asked if she wanted to stay in late to keep the streak alive, but Boston was content with the outcome and not personal goals.

However, when it's time to compete, Boston's ready: She scored 23 of her 26 points in the second half of South Carolina's 81-77 win at No. 5 UConn last Sunday.

Boston has heard what others think is at stake in this matchup, including SEC and national player of the year awards.

"If that's what they're looking at, I guess I leave that up to them," she said. "But coming into this game, I can't look at it as 'Oh, I need to win. I need to do this or that to get national player of the year,' because in reality that's not the biggest goal. The biggest ... is the national championship."

Reese is known for her game and her sense of fashion -- long eyelashes, painted nails. She has embraced her nickname, "Bayou Barbie" to the point that she's applied to have it trademarked and intends to produce merchandise.

Reese's NIL evaluation is worth $258,000, according to On3.com's tracker. That's about $150,000 more than Boston.

Around the holidays, Reese persuaded one of her top sponsors, handbag company Coach, to provide bags which retail for about $500 to each of her teammates. She wanted them to benefit from her financial success.

"I can't do this without them," she said. "I feel like I've grown my platform here at LSU and without my teammates and my coaches, I wouldn't be able to do this."

ESPN analyst Debbie Antonelli thinks Staley and her No. 1 defense will look to end Reese's double-double streak in front a sold-out arena Sunday.

"It'll be fun to watch," she said.

  photo  FILE - LSU head coach Kim Mulkey talks with forward Angel Reese (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia in Baton Rouge, La., on Feb. 2, 2023. One thing's nearly certain when LSU's Angel Reese and South Carolina's Aliyah Boston face off Sunday in a showdown of the country's last two undefeated teams: Someone, if not both, will come away with a double-double. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle, File)
 
 

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