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Kennedy steps up to point's demands

Dawn Staley knows what she is looking for in a point guard.

The second-year South Carolina women's basketball coach was a two-time National Player of the Year at Virginia and a three-time Olympic Gold Medal winner - playing point guard.

Last year when the Gamecocks struggled to a 10-18 finish, she never found a point guard to run the system the way she sees fit.

This season, Staley seems to have found what she's looking for in Samone Kennedy.

Kennedy, a junior from Birmingham, Ala., struggled at times last season. She spent a month in the summer working with her former high school coaches Robert Mosley and Terry Drake to improve on her game.

That plus playing under the current coaching staff is paying dividends.

"Experience under our coaching staff," Staley said was the biggest difference. "I think she knows what to expect now. She's really made a conscious effort to be different than she was last year."

The numbers she has posted in the first eight games back up her commitment. After having more turnovers (73) than assists (68) a season ago, Kennedy leads USC with 27 assists this year and just 15 turnovers. Those aren't the only numbers to improve.

Kennedy has improved her shooting from 37 percent from the field to 48 percent. After making nine 3-pointers last season and shooting 23 percent from beyond the arc, she has made eight this year and is shooting 47 percent.

"It's something that coach Staley talked about with me in the postseason," Kennedy said. "I looked at all my stats from last year and I was not happy with them at all. I knew what I had to get better at."

She is USC's main option at running the point, playing 35 minutes a game. That is a result of her play more than a lack of depth behind her.

Staley has said the improved play from Kennedy has been a key to the Gamecocks getting off to a 5-3 start against a competitive schedule. Before the season, Staley still had doubts that Kennedy was the one for the job.

"She wasn't grasping things as quickly as a point guard should grasp things," Staley said. "But I was asking her to do things that she had never done, so that takes a little bit of time."

Staley also points to the past two games as part of Kennedy's development. Against High Point, Kennedy had 14 points and a career-high seven steals. Then in a win against North Carolina State on Sunday, she had 18 points and hit a 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

"She is owning the position, owning the fact that she has to run our basketball team," Staley said. "That's a good thing when a point guard can own it and come back to see the fruits of their labor pay off in the stat line."

Kennedy said that playing under Staley took some time getting used to.

"I would never doubt a thing she says whether it sounds wrong or not," Kennedy said. "She's been there and has the gold medals. She's been where a lot of us would love to be, where we dream of being. I know whatever she is telling me is the right thing to do."