Now the two former NIC-10 MVPs lift each other up. And have a chance to lift Saint Louis University (4-3) to new heights. Kennedy leads the Billikens in scoring (17.2 points) and Gray is third (12.4).
“It’s crazy,” Kennedy said. “We both never thought this would happen. In high school, we were always enemies, but we trained together. She would always push me during workouts to be my best. We would always go at it. Being teammates with her is a privilege. She is so fiery, competitive, loving and just provides great energy within our team. She adds so much. It’s so awesome to be a teammate and not an opponent with her.”
“When I was in high school,” said Gray, a two-time NIC-10 MVP, “if there is one player in the conference I would want to play with it was Peyton. It’s amazing that God has given us this opportunity to play with each other. I love playing with her. I love how hard she works. And I love her heart and love for the game. I can’t wait to see where it takes us this year.”
So far, it has taken the Billikens to a pair of historic games. First, they beat Missouri on Nov. 12. And Sunday they shot a school-record 61.2% in a 79-75 win over Illinois-Chicago.
Kennedy was perfect in that game, shooting 12-for-12 from the floor to break the school shooting record of 10-for-10 in a game.
How good was that? Well, Kennedy made more baskets in that one game than she did her entire freshman season at SLU.
Three times as many.
Kennedy shot 11% as a freshman. She improved to 36% as a sophomore and 46% as a junior when she developed into one of the best players on a Billikens team that reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
And now she is all the way up to 55% from the floor as a senior.
“A few years ago I was more hesitant,” Kennedy said. “I would think too much about things. Now I am just playing free, the way I know how to play. Just having fun with the people I love. I have great leaders surrounding me that push me to be my best every day.”
Kennedy and Gray first showed how great they can be together in the third game of the season. Gray scored 22 points and Kennedy 21 in a 93-85 win over Missouri, an in-state rival that went into that game with a 24-1 career record against the Billikens.
Kennedy took the opening tip and scored just seven seconds into the game.
“Peyton has been amazing this season,” Gray said. “She is hustling on and off the court, doing a lot of little things that people don’t notice.”
Gray, a sophomore who is new to the team after one year as an honorable mention JUCO All-American at Wabash Valley, led Auburn in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals in high school. Now, she is primarily a scorer, shooting 47% from the floor, second on the team only to Kennedy.
“In high school, I was playing everything, doing everything for my team,” Gray said. “That helped me excel in college. Now I can go in for different reasons, help do this, help do that. If someone is having trouble with this, I can help with that. High school helped me test out different things and now I am applying it in college.”
A year ago, St. Louis started out 6-16 before Kennedy found her game. Boylan’s all-time leading scorer (2,078 points) and rebounder (1,102) had scored 15 or more points only six times in 66 career games. Then she did it six times in a row, spearheading St. Louis to 12 wins in 13 games and an NCAA berth.
Her 27 3-pointers were third on the team last year. She leads this year’s team with 12.
“My coaches and teammates have encouraged me to shoot more, which makes me look for my shot more,” Kennedy said. “The people around me have created a healthy space for me to be creative and show the competence within me.”
Kennedy, Gray and returning first-team all-conference guard Kyla McMakin give the Billikens three players who average a combined 46 points per game. They are also a veteran team, with no freshmen. A team that has high expectations this year — and is showing signs of delivering on them with a 4-3 record that includes a pair of high-profile wins.
“I love this team, I love this environment,” Gray said. “We’re going to be winning games and we’re going to be going to the Tournament and that’s all I care about.”
“Pursuing excellence all the time is our goal,” Kennedy said. “This is one of the most competitive teams I’ve ever been on. Our aim is always to reach for higher goals and our goal this year is to actually win a game in the NCAA Tournament. Our win over Mizzou proves we can do it and sets us up for success and infuses confidence in us all. It encourages us that this win does mean something.”
Contact: email@example.com, @matttrowbridge or 815-987-1383. Matt Trowbridge has covered sports for the Rockford Register Star for over 30 years, after previous stints in North Dakota, Delaware, Vermont and Iowa City.
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Peyton Kennedy, Brooklyn Gray pacing Saint Louis women's basketball