Samone Kennedy was the incumbent starter at point guard for the South Carolina women's basketball team. But during Dawn Staley's first season last year, Kennedy didn't always play up to the expectations Staley has for the position.
But thanks to a career-high seven steals and a season-high 14 points in a 70-52 victory against High Point on Wednesday in a late-morning tip at Colonial Life Arena, Staley has been pleased with Kennedy's effort this season.
"Samone has been our rock," Staley said. "She has been pretty consistent with how she has been playing. Any time we can get double-digit scoring from her, it's always a good sign things are going pretty (well) for us. I wish she would be more assertive and look for her shot. It keeps teams really honest."
Kennedy provided the defensive presence the Gamecocks (4-3) were lacking due to the absence of forward Charenee Stephens, who was out with an injury.
High Point was successful in the paint, scoring 36 points, but USC - led by Kennedy and Valerie Nainima - harassed the Panthers' perimeter players into a woeful outing.
High Point's leading scorer, Jurica Hargraves, was held scoreless, and the Panthers went 1-for-12 from the 3-point line. Among the 20 turnovers the Panthers committed, the Gamecocks had 15 steals that they converted into a 23-4 advantage in fast-break points.
"I felt like we needed more offense from somewhere," Kennedy said. "We really weren't getting it in the half-court set, so I felt like we had to get it in transition or get a couple of steals to push the tempo."
Kennedy did most of the damage in the second half, when the Gamecocks built on a 30-27 halftime lead. She had 10 points and five steals in the final 20 minutes.
USC went on an 8-0 run to open the second half to increase its lead to 11, and it never fell below six the rest of the way. The Gamecocks was 15-for-23 (65.2 percent) from the field in the second half.
This was after the first half featured six ties and three lead changes.
Nainima scored 13 of her game-high 20 points in the final half as the starting USC backcourt outscored its High Point counterpart 34-4.
"Samone and Ebony (Wilson) gave us a lot of energy and boost, all of us," Nainima said. "Everybody is stepping up, and that's great this early in the season."
Stephens has been a spark plug off the bench but missed the game with a left knee sprain. She likely will play in USC's next contest, Dec. 13 against N.C. State, said Diana Koval, women's basketball assistant director.
Ebony Wilson and Ashley Bruner did more than an adequate job in Stephens' place Wednesday. The first-year players each set career highs in scoring, with Wilson scoring eight points and Bruner seven. They also held their own on the boards, with Bruner collecting five rebounds and Wilson four.
"I thought Ebony gave us great minutes," Staley said. "Her minutes were extended because she played so well. She was energy. Now there are 30 extra minutes out there (with Stephens out), and it's going to be shared among a lot of different people."
Freshman Kelsey Bone added 13 points and nine rebounds.