Xavier Women Led by a Special Confidence

Sophomore Special Jennings

Sophomore Special Jennings

Feb. 19, 2009

By Adam Kiefaber

CINCINNATI - "Shoot it!"

"Shoot the ball, I don't care what the coach says, shoot it!"

As a freshman last season, Xavier point guard Special Jennings repeatedly heard that command from her teammates.

Eventually, she listened.

"That is when it really started clicking, I thought to myself, `I have to shoot the ball. I have to be more than just be fast and run the team, I have to do other things'," she said.

Jennings had to adjust from high school--where she averaged 21.3 points and eight assists per game--to college, where she was struggling.

"When things get hard, you become your own worst enemy, you want to do so well, but some things just don't go your way and that was something I had to learn last year," Jennings said.

When things didn't go well, instead of taking criticism from her coaches or teammates, the freshman beat herself up mentally.

Her frustration intensified after she injured her thumb early in the season. The injury forced Jennings to wear a brace on her left hand for the remainder of the year.

"It is a big adjustment from high school to college, but because she has so much confidence she was able to make that transition very quickly," Xavier head coach Kevin McGuff said.

Early on that confidence worked against Jennings, but that assurance in her own abilities also helped her earn the starting point guard spot for the last 17 games of the season.

"To me, I am the best in the world. That is the way I try to look at it. To see myself not starting when I have been a starter all my life...I just knew I had to be out there," Jennings said.

While out on the floor, Jennings was able to lead last year's team in assists with 94. She also averaged 3.6 points per game and shot 74.5 percent from the free-throw line.

After pushing herself hard in the offseason, Jennings wanted to dramatically improve her game and statistically she did.

Through 27 games this season, Jennings is averaging 7.7 points per game, while increasing her three-point percentage from 25.7 percent to 41.5 percent and her field-goal percentage from 25.8 percent to 38.1 percent. She also has continued to lead the team in assists with 82 and is still knocking down foul shots (78.3 percent).

Even though her numbers are much improved, statistics don't matter to Jennings.

What matters is that her team continues to win.

"I love to win, there is nothing I want to do more. I could care less if I scored 50 points and if I didn't score at all," Jennings said. "At the end of the day, if we make it to the National Championship, it is not about who scored 50 points, it is about the winning and losing team."

Not only is Jennings confident in her own abilities, she is confident in her team and says that they can match up well with any opponent in the country.

Currently, Xavier is on a roll, and is ranked No. 17 and No. 16, respectively, in the Associated Press Top 25 and ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.

The Musketeers have won 14 in a row and are a perfect 11-0 in conference play with only three games left before the Atlantic 10 tournament in March.

Despite Jennings surplus of confidence, she isn't looking past any team in the conference and knows that opponents want to beat Xavier more so than any other team in the A-10.

"Playing us is like playing in the Super Bowl, when it is time to play Xavier they want to win and we know that," she said. "Even though we are the best team in the league, we have to keep practicing and keep getting better every day. We have to stay hungry because you never know, sometimes things happen."

The Xavier women will hit the road for a pair of games, the first being on Feb. 21 against Saint Louis and then against Temple on Feb. 25. The Musketeers will wrap up the regular season at the Cintas Center on Feb. 28 against Fordham.