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Women’s basketball: Unsung heroes guide Gamecocks to victory

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has talked of making progress in small increments. After the second half debacle against No. 3 Stanford on Friday night, the Gamecocks made their biggest improvement yet.

And it came from the most unlikely sources.

Samone Kennedy, the shortest player on the court, scored a career high 23 points, and USC shot a season-high 46.9 percent to beat Charlotte 78-76 Sunday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena.

Kennedy, a sophomore, had never made a 3-pointer in her USC career. She went 0-for-8 last year and was 0-for-5 this season before hitting all four of her 3-pointers against the 49ers.

She hit three of the Gamecocks four 3-pointers in a 4:45 stretch to open the second half as USC (6-4) stretched a one-point halftime lead to a 54-41 advantage on the strength of a 16-4 run.

“I’ve never really focused on whether I made or missed my 3-pointers and today it was no different,” Kennedy said. “I was in the mode and felt it I just wanted to put the shot up. After the third one, I thought it was impossible so I was just savoring the moment.”

Staley was even surprised by the offensive outburst from the 5-foot-4 point guard.

“Santa came early didn’t he,” Staley said. “Samone brings the speed element to our game. She is probably the point guard that has the most point guard instincts, and we put her into the lineup to give us a push. She countered the other point guard and won the battle.”

The Gamecocks were pushed around and outrebounded by Stanford 53-21 and outscored 41-19 in the second half on Friday night. But they turned in their best performance of the season against a Charlotte (8-3) team that came in with losses to ACC foes N.C. State and Wake Forest by a combined 15 points.

The 49ers didn’t go down without a fight. After the Gamecocks built the 13-point advantage early in the second half, Charlotte chipped away and made it a one possession game three times in the final minute, but USC made enough free throws down the stretch to keep the visitors at bay.

Kennedy wasn’t the only player that stepped up their game on the offensive end. Senior C.J. Pace set a new career-high with 16 points and had two of South Carolina’s season-high eight 3-pointers. Demetress Adams was her usual steady self with 19 points and nine rebounds while fellow senior Brionna Dickerson added 11 points.

“I try to bring energy and let other people feed off of it,” Pace said. “If I can do what I have to do to get everybody going then that is what I’m going to try and do.”

Staley said it was nice to see other players step to the forefront on the offensive end.

“This probably is our best performance just because of the loss we came off of and Christmas break is right around the corner,” Staley said. “I thought our players really focused to get this win. They really seemed to put it together. I told them a month ago we don’t win this type of game, probably even two weeks ago. But I think its coming together. I was really encouraged by the progression that is taking place.”

The Gamecocks will have a week off for the Christmas Break before welcoming top-ranked Connecticut next Sunday.