By Thomas Becker
Photo Janessa Hogan
Kiera Rigby was the catalyst in UPEI's third-quarter takeover.
The fourth-year forward scored 22 points (13 in the third) to power the Panthers past the Acadia Axewomen 69-65 Friday night.
Down 14 at the break, Rigby led the Panthers to a 28-point third quarter, where they outscored their opponent by 18 and held them to a minuscule 21 per cent shooting.
"We're a team that generally goes inside out and we seemed to not look for it," said head coach Greg Gould. "We've been working on some high-low stuff against the zone and it was really effective. We got some real easy baskets."
With the win, the Panthers (5-7) jumped ahead of the Axewomen (5-7) with 16 points and now sit in fifth place in the standings.
Acadia's second leading scorer Chanel Smith began the game doing what she does best, draining a triple for a quick advantage. A steal by Panthers' Jenna Mae Ellsworth led to a run out and an easy layup for Karla Yepez, but was quickly answered by a Paloma Anderson driving deuce. Her basket kick-started a 9-0 run for the Axewomen, who led 14-4 midway through the quarter.
The Panthers struggled after scoring the game's first basket, as they were held to just one field goal over the next five minutes.
After trimming the deficit to seven, UPEI had several opportunities to pull even closer, but the perimeter jumper betrayed them in the first where they were held to a measly 20 per cent shooting. Acadia, meanwhile, shot 40 per cent and led 18-9 after one.
Acadia's potent scoring duo of Smith and Anderson combined for 14 of the 18 points. Smith had a team-high 17 points in the loss.
The Axewomen pushed their lead to 34-20 behind strong efforts by Katie Ross and Kelsey Rice in the opening minutes of the second. They recorded 14 of the team's 21 points in the quarter. Ross finished with 15 on the night, while Rice recorded a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
The Panthers shooting continued to stay frigid from outside as they laboured through to halftime where they trailed 39-25.
"We struggled with our defence," Gould said. "At halftime, I said 'we have to win a ball game, so let's try to go zone.' The zone seemed to be effective."
Rigby opened the second half with an old fashioned three-point play, trimming it to 39-28. She continued her strong third quarter, single handedly bringing her team back. She scored 11 of the team's first 13 points in the quarter, as the Panthers climbed to within four, 42-38.
Following an Axewomen timeout, UPEI's Jennifer Newman tied the game at 42 apiece with a jumper, erasing the 14-point halftime deficit.
Yepez then gave the Panthers their first lead since the game's opening basket. After Acadia tied it up again, Ellsworth followed that up with a triple. UPEI continued their stellar play – outscoring their opponent 28-10 in the third on a blistering 62.5 per cent shooting – pushing the lead to 53-49 heading into the final quarter.
Del Santo and Rigby extended the lead to eight, before a Ross triple capped off a mini 5-0 run for the Axewomen, who trailed 57-54 midway through the final quarter.
A pair of missed free throws for Anderson helped the Panthers' cause, as they went on a 4-0 spurt to extend their cushion to seven, 61-54.
Rice trimmed it to one at the charity strike and after Del Santo pushed the lead back up to three, Anderson – the reigning MVP – delivered a game-tying three-point play.
After getting her initial shot blocked, forward Jane McLaughlin gathered the ball and went up strong with her second effort, only to get fouled. McLaughlin made both foul line shots to take a 67-65 advantage.
Looking to go up four, Ellsworth missed both free throws, giving new life to Acadia. With only 30 seconds remaining, the Axewomen put the ball in the hands of their MVP. But Anderson stepped out of bounds, all but sealing the 69-65 win. The Panthers limited the league's top scorer to just 15 points on 7-of-25 shooting.
The Panthers look to make it two in a row when they welcome the Saint Mary's Huskies to town. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.