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Point guard excelling in new role

When starting point guard Jasmine Wynne’s season ended abruptly with a torn ACL on Jan. 20, the USF women’s basketball team was left without an experienced ball handler.

The duties were put primarily in the hands of freshman KaNeisha Saunders, and the 5-foot-7 guard from Delray Beach has not disappointed.

In four starts, Saunders is averaging 10.3 points and four assists per game. She also led the Bulls in scoring in two of those games – 16 points at St. John’s on Jan. 23 and 15 against Villanova on Feb. 2.

“It’s impossible to replace someone like Jasmine (Wynne) because she can do so many special things on the court – such as finding her teammates and playing great defense,” Saunders said. “But I feel like I have stepped my game up in her absence because my team needed me to.”

Wynne, who helped the Bulls win a WNIT title last season, averaged 8.6 points per game and led USF in assists per game and steals before the injury.

But Saunders and the Bulls overcame Wynne’s absence and played well, said USF coach Jose Fernandez. The Bulls have won four of their last six games, helping them stay alive for a postseason bid.

“(Saunders) got thrown into the fire as a freshman playing in the best conference in the country,” Fernandez said. “But she has really responded. She struggles at times, but that is due to a lack of experience. For what we need, which is someone to handle the ball, Saunders has played extremely well.”

Saunders leads the team with 30 steals – an area Fernandez emphasized. But Saunders said she’s trying to improve her decision making, which includes cutting down on turnovers. She has 59 this season.

“I need to take care of the ball better and be more vocal on the court,” Saunders said. “But I feel like I have done a good job scoring the basketball as well as distributing it to my teammates.”

USF (13-9) faces a key three-game road stretch this week and could move into the top half of the league with a win at Marquette (13-9, 4-5), who sits tied with the Bulls in the Big East standings, tonight at 9.

The Bulls are coming off a 60-52 loss at home to Rutgers. USF shot just 6 percent (1-for-16) from 3-point range.

“We had a great workout on Sunday, and I think that took our minds off the (Rutgers) loss,” Fernandez said. “We just don’t have the depth to shoot that poorly and win games in this league … we’ll be ready to go.”

Fernandez said the play of his backcourt – especially Saunders – is key down the stretch.

“Saunders has shot the ball very well in our past few games,” he said. “She is also great at creating off the dribble late in the shot clock, which is huge because it either gives her a shot close to the basket or it allows her to pass to an open teammate.”