COLUMBIA, S.C. — It's hard not to see similarities between South Carolina All-American Aliyah Boston and South Florida's Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu.
Both centers are tall and dominant with exceptional footwork and a drive to score down low despite multiple defenders in their way.
The two will face each other Sunday when the undefeated, top-seeded and defending national champion Gamecocks (33-0) play the eighth-seeded Bulls (27-6) in the second round of the women's NCAA Tournament.
Boston sees a lot of what she does in Fankam Mendjiadeu.
“She's a great post player, very physical,” Boston said Saturday. “She rebounds the ball and is pretty good around the basket, so yeah, she does" play like the two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year.
Fankam Mendjiadeu has 24 double-doubles this season, including 22 points and 16 boards in Friday's 67-65 overtime win against Marquette, and Boston has 20.
Fankam Mendjiadeu is averaging 16.8 points and 12.4 rebounds. She also leads South Florida with 36 blocks.
Boston has averaged 13.1 points and 9.7 rebounds and has a team-high 66 blocks. She was named the SEC's co-defensive player of the year with teammate Brea Beal.
“She is really more physical than me, that's for sure,” Fankam Mendjiadeu said. “She's really good, she's one of the best players in the country right now. It's going to be a great game.”
Especially down low.
Boston came out on top in a similar showdown earlier this season, getting 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in an 88-64 domination of then-undefeated LSU on Feb. 12. The Tigers' Angel Reese managed just four rebounds — her first game of the season without double-digit boards.
Reese leads the country with 29 double-doubles. Fankam Mendjiadeu is fourth and Boston is sixth.
And Fankam Mendjiadeu is able to lock in when the Bulls are in trouble. That was the case against Marquette, which led by 11 points midway through the third quarter before the Bulls rallied. Fankam Mendjiadeu scored 16 of her points and had 12 of her rebounds in the final two quarters and OT.
One thing's for sure: Fankam Mendjiadeu will need to play even better, and get some help from her teammates, to slow down Boston.
Boston has had four games this season with single-digit scoring, including South Carolina's opening-round, 72-40 victory over Norfolk State, in which she finished with seven points and nine rebounds. Still, the Gamecocks are versatile and deep when Boston's on the bench or off her game.
Boston played just 23 minutes Friday. Fankam Mendjiadeu was in for 42 of 45 minutes in the first round.
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said Fankam Mendjiadeu is strong in the post and active on both sides of the ball. South Carolina will play her straight up, Staley said, and “if she forces us to double her, she's working us over.”
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Staley is always a focus of fans and the media — and often opponents. Following the Gamecocks' first-round win over Norfolk State Friday, several of the Spartans sought out Staley for pictures and the chance to chat.
Staley told Norfolk State leading scorer Kierra Wheeler, a sophomore, to keep her head up because things will improve. Wheeler, at 6-foot-1, was forced to guard the 6-5 Boston.
“I just wanted her to know that I saw her,” Staley said of Wheeler. “Doing what she needed to do and it was real promising.”
NO JUNK DEFENSES
South Florida coach Jose Fernandez won't change what his team does on defense, even if he's facing the country's No. 1 team.
Fernandez plans to stick with the Bulls' base man-to-man defense to combat South Carolina's Boston, Zia Cooke, and Kamilla Cardoso.
“I guess Dawn knows we're going to play man-to-man for 40 minutes,” he said. “We’ve played man-to-man for all year — how many games have we played this year? Thirty-three games? Well, guess what, we are going to play man-to-man tomorrow. That’s what we do.”