Player of the year race: Advantage, Aliyah Boston?

COLOMBIA, South Carolina. Most of the 18,000 fans in attendance at the Colonial Life Arena, after South Carolina’s 88-64 victory over LSU Sunday, are of the same opinion as coach Don Staley when it comes to Alia Boston, the National Player of the Year.

“I don’t think Aaliyah should be doing this,” Staley said when asked if the senior forward stepped forward on Sunday to reclaim the National Player of the Year award she won last season. “I think the beauty of Alia lies in all her work. There is no one in the country who makes as much impression as she does on both sides of basketball. Nobody.

“As for me – I have no voice other than my mouthpiece – she is the best player in the country.”

Meanwhile, the 13,150 fans who packed the Carver-Hawkey Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, are as convinced as Iowa coach Lisa Bluder that defenseman Caitlin Clark is the national player of the year.

It is clear that coaches and fans on both sides must actively defend their player. For the media and coaching groups that vote for different players of the year, comparisons are difficult, in part because the two players are so different: the best fielder in the country and the best point guard.

The Boston case is not always defined by individual numbers; On Sunday, her 14 points and nine rebounds did not lead the Gamecocks in either category. 18th and 13th center Camilla Cardoso did it. But watching South Carolina’s choke defense revolve around Boston, along with the attention it demands from defensemen, you know what Staley means by Boston’s influence at both ends of the court.

LSU’s Angel Reese’s 23-game double-double streak was snapped, and while South Carolina’s overall defense is commendable, Boston was Reese’s biggest problem.

In the meantime, Clarke has generally had a brilliant offensive record since his first season and the juniors’ defense has improved as well. #5 Clark’s Hawkeyes are a good team, but they don’t have the level of talent that Boston has. Clarke played just 21 minutes in Sunday’s 111-57 rout of Rutgers, posting 15 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Clark averages 27.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 8.3 assists per season.

Clarke has three triple-doubles this season and nine in her Iowa career. Only former Oregon star quarterback Sabrina Ionescu has more, with 26. Ionescu was the subject of a similar “guard vs. post” debate for the 2019 National Player of the Year, when Iowa’s Megan Gustafson was the post.

Reese has been the most influential signing of the season and is responsible for why the Tigers are in the top 5 teams. She doesn’t deserve to just disappear from the National Player of the Year radar because of Sunday when she finished with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 blocks. But if Boston wasn’t at the top of the all-time list until Sunday, it’s solidified its place there now.

There are other players worth mentioning, including Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes, Stanford’s Cameron Brink, Alia Edwards of the University of Connecticut, and Villanova’s Maddie Siegrist, who leads the nation in scoring averages (29.1).

But conversations about NPOY were mostly between Boston, Clark and Reese. It’s fair to say that Boston and Clark are now the clear winners and both fan bases will be furious if their player doesn’t win.

Let’s see how the next few weeks go. But there are two organizations that already feel like winners, regardless of who wins the individual awards this year: the WNBA and USA Basketball. Boston, Clark and Reese must be fantastic professionals. And all of them can become teammates, someday they will win Olympic gold together.


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