NCAAW top 5 performances: Aliyah Boston vs. Rhyne Howard; Washington State's clutch freshman

Cassandra Negley
·6 min read

It was arguably one of the best and most competitive weekends women’s basketball has had in quite a while. There were a handful of upsets — hello, Nebraska — while others continued to solidify their place — hey, undefeated Texas A&M.

The five top performances of the weekend include a clutch freshman at Washington State and a glimpse at future WNBA stars in Aliyah Boston and Rhyne Howard going head-to-head for SEC positioning.

Washington State upset: Freshman hits both key shots

Give it up for another freshman making a name for herself early. Washington State upended No. 7 Arizona, 71-69, in overtime on Sunday with two clutch shots by freshman Charlisse Leger-Walker, the top-ranked player in New Zealand’s 2020 class.

Leger-Walker sent the game into overtime with :03 on the clock with a reverse layup. She also hit the game-winner with 15 seconds left in overtime with a layup.

She led the Cougars (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) with 17 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime, and three steals. Krystal Leger-Walker, her older sister, and Bella Murekatete had 14 points each.

Aari McDonald had 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead Arizona. The Wildcats led by as many as 16 points.

The win is big for Washington State in terms of a potential Associated Press ranking — they’re the only Pac-12 team that’s never been ranked in the poll — but more importantly fortheir standing in a competitive conference.

The Cougars are now second behind undefeated and No. 1 Stanford (10-0, 7-0). The two teams are the only ones to drop at least 70 points on Arizona this season. Ranked squads Oregon (9-2, 7-2), Arizona (8-2, 6-2) and UCLA (7-2, 5-2) trail in the standings.

Washington State has only been to the NCAA tournament once (1991) and tied its best league start in program history. The Cougars have a win over Oregon State, which was ranked No. 21 at the time.

Watch out for Nebraska in upset over Michigan State

Nebraska (6-4, 4-3) is climbing into Big Ten title contention. The Cornhuskers have won three of their last four, two of which were against ranked opponents. They defeated No. 23 Michigan State, 68-64, on Sunday.

Sam Haiby, Ashley Scoggin and Whitney Brown made free throws for Nebraska in the final 30 seconds and Kate Cain blocked a final 3-point attempt by Michigan State (8-2, 3-2). Isabelle Bourne had a team-high 18 points with seven rebounds and three assists before leaving with an ankle injury. Haiby put up her first career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

It’s been up-and-down for the Cornhuskers. They started the season with three wins, but followed it with a three-game losing skid. They were blown out by Indiana, then ranked No. 15, 81-45.

Nebraska snapped the skid against No. 15 Northwestern, 65-63, and kept it going with a 53-50 win over Rutgers. They lost by two, 64-62, to No. 15 Michigan on Thursday night.

All the more impressive is that the Cornhuskers are playing with eight on the roster due to injuries and in-season transfers, per the Lincoln Journal Star. All three of their bench players are true freshmen.

Gamecocks defeat Wildcats on 1 day of practice

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston and Kentucky's Rhyne Howard.
South Carolina's Aliyah Boston, left, shoots near Kentucky's Rhyne Howard during the second half of the Gamecocks' win. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

No. 5 South Carolina came into an SEC-defining matchup against No. 10 Kentucky (7-1, 2-2) on only one day of in-person practice due to a COVID-19 test that turned out to be a false positive.

Despite their largest halftime deficit since March 2019 and reigning SEC Player of the Year Rhyne Howard on the other side, the Gamecocks (8-1, 3-0) prevailed for a 75-70 victory. They remain in a tie with Texas A&M (12-0, 3-0) atop the SEC standings.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was never in favor of changing the date of the game even if her team couldn’t do much scouting in virtual meetings. Via the Charlotte Observer:

“I didn’t want to delay it. I wanted to use this as an opportunity for our players to get stronger mentally, to not rely on anything besides getting the job done. Because we don’t know what this season’s gonna look like,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston, Rhyne Howard step up in SEC

Junior Destanni Henderson scored 22 points and sophomore Aliyah Boston came back from two early fouls for a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead South Carolina. Boston nearly had another triple-double with seven blocks and looked more like herself late in the contest.

Howard had a game-high 32 points on 13-for-25 shooting with seven rebounds and three assists. The 6-foot-2 junior guard averages 20.4 points per game and is a favorite for national player of the year.

The two meet again Feb. 21 on ESPN.

Texas A&M is for real (redux)

Texas A&M remains undefeated after a game-winning runner by Jordan Nixon gave the No. 8 Aggies a 74-73 win over No. 13 Arkansas.

Arkansas (10-4, 1-3) led, 73-69, with less than a minute left and the Aggies didn’t lead in the fourth quarter until the winning shot with less than a second on the clock. Texas A&M blocked a final attempt at the buzzer by Chelsea Dungee, who had 21 points.

The Aggies tied their best start in program history (2008-09) with win No. 12. It’s also tied for the longest winning streak in program history; the last one was during the 2011 national championship season.

The Aggies are building an impressive resume with wins over then-ranked No. 19 DePaul, No. 25 Texas and most recently No. 10 Kentucky. They have No. 14 Mississippi State this weekend.

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