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University of Colorado point guard Kennedy Leonard is making a habit of playing well in big games. And she’s only a freshman. Despite losing to the University of Missouri, 79-75 on Saturday afternoon, Leonard shined, scoring 14 points and dishing out five assists. Head coach Linda Lappe credits her point guard’s maturity for her early success in Boulder.
“She doesn’t get rattled, she’s staying very composed, she’s doing a much better job of taking care of the basketball,” Lappe said. “I thought she did some nice things today and she makes plays.”
The Buffaloes, who have struggled in a tough non-conference schedule, have been lucky to have Leonard, who is averaging 12.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists. She finished her day against Mizzou with a career-high 38 minutes, almost ten above her season average of 28.8. Since arriving in Boulder, she has started in all but one game this season, and scored in double-digits six times in her first nine collegiate games.
Leonard will be the first to mention her teammates when referencing her personal growth on the floor. One of three in a highly touted 2015 recruiting class, the guard has found the learning curve to be easier given the tight-knit nature of this Buffaloes team.
“They’re always there for me and I think they’ve been a huge part of everyone’s growth and everyone grows because of the people around you,” Leonard said. “I think knowing that everyone has my back and I have their back just as much is vital in everyone’s growth.”
Her coaches have also noticed the growth, feeling comfortable enough to have her start over sophomore Brecca Thomas, who led Colorado’s backcourt in 2014. The difficult non-conference slate leads into an even tougher Pac-12 schedule, but coach Lappe feels comfortable with having Leonard be her floor general.
“You need players that step up and you can’t design everything that is gonna happen in a game,” Lappe said. “Kennedy is one of those players that, if you give her a framework, and then say, do it, she finds a way to get things done.”
Lappe also believes that all of her freshmen have stepped into the roles they have been given. Alexis Robinson, Mackenzie Ellis and Leonard combined for 29 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists against Missouri, and have been important pieces in a Colorado team that is looking for their first NCAA tournament bid since the 2012-2013 season.
“If you look at our run at the end of the first half, all three [of the freshmen] were in,” Lappe said. “They’re winners and that’s what you want, and obviously there is a certain amount of growth when it comes to knowing the intricacies of the game but you gotta love their passion and their ability to fight and play.”
Colorado will try to rebound next Saturday, Dec. 19 against Presbyterian University. Leonard will most likely be starting, and keep the momentum going in her first season at Boulder.