March 24, 2022 | ESPN.com
THE BALL CLANGS off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounds, and Aliyah Boston‘s hands fly to her head in disbelief. She’s hit this shot 1,000 times — a little putback just over the front of the rim. But when she wanted to hit it most, in the last moments of the 2021 Final Four to send South Carolina to the national championship game, the ball bounces off metal instead of dropping through the net.
Boston turns her back to the basket, and squats low. She presses her palms flat against the hardwood; she bows her head into her jersey as her teammates collapse all around her. Boston feels like she’s let them down, like she didn’t show up when her team needed her. And there are no more games, no redos. It’s just over.
After pushing herself back into a standing position, Boston takes a couple steps before doubling over with emotion. South Carolina assistant coach Fred Chmiel wraps Boston into a hug as the tears pour down her cheeks.
Stanford players Fran Belibi and Haley Jones, two of Boston’s best friends, stop their celebration and run over to embrace her. Jones and Belibi may be going on to the national championship game after Stanford’s 66-65 win, but they’re also heartbroken for Boston.
After the confetti clears from Stanford’s eventual championship two days later, and the River Walk in San Antonio empties, and long after Boston’s tears have dried, she embraces the fire burning within her. What happened against Stanford won’t happen again. As she sits with her mother, Cleone, Aliyah shares what’s next.
“Mom,” Aliyah says to Cleone. “The narrative is going to change.”