The SEC’s biggest stars are two underclassmen
Two thoughts often came to mind while watching the SEC this season: 1). Rhyne Howard will find a way to score and kudos if you can stop her. 2.) If Aliyah Boston is in the paint, why are you?
Howard, the league’s leading scorer who also ranks third in the nation, was named the 2020 SEC Player of the Year. Just one year ago, the Kentucky star was named the top rookie.
“I mean, like everyone has ups and downs, but I think I had more ups than downs,” Howard told High Post Hoops. “For the other coaches to see that in me and want to vote for me, that just means the world.”
The highs: Howard scored 43 points at Alabama and ranked 3rd in the league in steals. The lows: she missed three games with a hand injury and when she returned, played with her hand bandaged.
But despite playing two fewer conference games than the second-highest scorer, she averaged six more points.
“The good ones go through some ups and downs. The great ones stay pretty consistent,” said ESPN analyst and longtime Georgia basketball coach Andy Landers. “What you’re seeing separates Rhyne Howard from the rest of the pack. The consistency that she has had and what she has been able to do when defenses have targeted her gives you an indication of how great a player she is.”
Howard credits her teammates for her success, and though she says she’s always been a scorer, says they motivated to find a way to get the ball in the basket this year. Her teammate, junior Chasity Patterson, was named Sixth Woman of the Year, but it’s not lost on Howard that two young players – both still in their teens – earned three of the league’s top four honors.
“It’s great to see young athletes excelling,” Howard said. “I love Aliyah (Boston), off the court she’s so nice and sweet. For her to get Freshman of the Year, I know she has to be feeling excited. Like, I’m excited for her.”
Boston is excited. After her first season at South Carolina, she was named both the league’s Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
It’s no surprise Boston had a special season; she notched a triple double in her collegiate debut. And like Howard, she immediately credited her teammates for helping her achieve SEC honors, though she also found it cool that two underclassmen dominated the league this season.
“I just think that we’re just showing our talent and showing what we can do,” Boston said. “The seniors in high school right now, (we’re) kind of showing them that even though they’re going to be new to the collegiate level, that they still can still be accomplishing things early.”
But what made Boston stand out in a league with players like Rickea Jackson, Mississippi State’s leading scorer this season, or Tamari Key, a 6’5 freshman for the Lady Vols, who leads the league in blocks?
Her versatility. ESPN analyst Andy Landers says not only can Boston perform at a high level, her game has a “range of offerings.”
She had .621 field goal percentage and averaged 13.1 points per game. She also averaged 10.3 rebounds per game and blocked 79 shots. She can face up and shoot a 15 footer and she’s fundamentally sound.
When the South Carolina Gamecocks, who often put pressure on the perimeter, broke down and were in need of help, they had Boston protecting the rim.
“She’s 6’5, she’s big, she’s strong. (For) a lot of people, that registers with them when they get (to the paint),” Landers said. “They’re probably thinking, what the devil did I do this for.”
Now, Boston is preparing for her first NCAA postseason as Howard enters her second. Kentucky will play Mississippi State in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament while South Carolina will match-up with Arkansas.
“As close as March Madness is, I am really focused on just winning the SEC tournament,” Boston said. “And taking one game at a time.”
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