Chip Scoggins
See more of the story

The game comfortably in hand and her stat sheet-stuffing performance complete, Aliyah Boston watched the final minutes of the national semifinal on the bench, rubbing a handheld massage gun on her right calf.

She earned that bit of therapy. She did a lot of heavy lifting Friday night.

She scored. She rebounded. She set up teammates for baskets. She played physical defense in the post.

Boston showed why she won — and deserved — a host of awards as the best player in women's college basketball this season.

The national player of the year lived up to that billing in a 72-59 win over Louisville that moved South Carolina into the national title game to face UConn with a chance to finish the season as the wire-to-wire No. 1 team.

Boston's final line: 23 points, 18 rebounds, four assists, zero fouls.

Each one of those numbers is impressive by itself. Combine them, and Boston's fingerprints were everywhere.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz went down a checklist of Boston's superlatives when asked about the different ways she impacts a game.

Walz: "She's 6-5. She has good hands. She moves well. She finishes on both sides of the floor. She goes after the ball. I mean, she's really good. It doesn't take me to tell you what she's good at. I've got a 6-year-old that can sit there and watch the game and be like, 'Yeah, she's good.' "

The most impressive part is that Boston makes it look routine. She's more efficient than flashy, such a force as a two-way player that she can dominate on offense and defense without sacrificing either one.

She led her team in scoring while also being named the national defensive player of the year. She scored a game-high 23 points on 12 field-goal attempts Friday. She was not called for a foul in 35 minutes on the floor.

The Gamecocks took control of the semifinal by running their offense through Boston more in the second half, which created three-point opportunities for guards and allowed Boston to flex her muscles in the post. She had a double-double in the second half alone, with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

"We have to play through her," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "That doesn't mean she has to shoot the ball, but every time she touches the ball, she draws a crowd."

Good things happen when she gets the ball. One of many examples came in the final seconds of the third quarter after Louisville whittled the lead to 54-48.

Boston grabbed an offensive rebound, scored on a layup and drew the fourth foul on Emily Engstler, Louisville's most effective player.

"Yeah, that wasn't my favorite thing," said Engstler, who fouled out in the fourth quarter with 18 points.

Boston finished off the three-point play to give her team more breathing room entering the final quarter.

"It was really big because it gave us momentum and also got somebody else in foul trouble, which we can always benefit from," Boston said.

Boston delivered the final blow with a three-pointer from the top of the key that stretched the lead to 14 points with three minutes left. That basket came after she landed awkwardly on a rebound and limped down the court. She shook it off quickly and went back to work.

Boston's honors have piled up during the tournament, but the weight of it all has had no negative effect. She says she's "locked in" on completing the mission.

The Gamecocks lost in the national semifinals last season, a one-point heartbreaker to Stanford. Boston missed a put-back attempt at the buzzer, the ball bouncing off the back of the rim. She put her hands on her head and then dropped to the floor in disbelief after the miss.

Boston has tried to distance herself from that moment whenever asked about it this weekend. She can't change that outcome, but she can script a different ending this time. Another performance like Friday's would help achieve that.