By Thomas Becker
Photo Janessa Hogan
Get your playoff tickets ready.
The UPEI Women's Basketball Panthers are headed to the postseason following a 66-57 win over the UNB Varsity Reds Saturday night.
"It was an important game," said head coach Greg Gould. "We knew if we won this game it would put us in the playoffs."
Kimeshia Henry – who got the start for the injured Carolina Del Santo – got things going early for the Panthers (7-8) from the charity strike, kick-starting a 13-4 run which was capped off by Karla Yepez layup.
All five Panthers starters scored in the opening quarter, where they led 20-13. Kiera Rigby notched eight of her 12 points in the first to lead UPEI, while Mikaela Dodig had five for the Varsity Reds (11-5).
After being held scoreless for three minutes to begin the second quarter, Gould called a timeout to regroup his squad, who still held a slim five-point advantage, 20-15.
Hannah Currie's four second-quarter points headed a 6-0 charge, trimming the deficit to one. But the Panthers responded quickly behind Jenna Mae Ellsworth who took control and led her team to a 29-23 halftime advantage. Ellsworth finished with a game-high 19 points.
Both teams traded baskets early in the third until Nicole LaFleur's corner trey cut the deficit to three, 31-28. LaFleur had a team-high 19 points for UNB.
Up just one, Ellsworth went coast to coast and spun off her defender for the impressive lay-in, keeping the lead intact. But LaFleur caught fire with the jumper, draining back-to-back baskets to move ahead 36-33.
With seconds remaining on the shot clock, Henry drained a high-arcing triple to tie the game. Ellsworth then powered past her defender for the contested layup, pulling the Panthers forward 42-40.
Henry's dominate third quarter continued, as she sped past her defender for a layup, giving UPEI a 46-44 edge heading into the final frame. She finished with 10 points on the night.
"I thought she played great on both ends," Gould said. "I was super impressed by her."
The Panthers looked to go inside at every opportunity and it paid off, as three consecutive layups pushed their lead to 52-45.
UPEI's strong play continued in the fourth where they extended their advantage to 56-45, while holding the Varsity Reds to just one point in the first four minutes of the quarter.
A mini 9-6 run brought UNB within eight, but that's as close they got as the Panthers pulled away for the 66-57 final.
The Panthers hit the road next where they'll face the Memorial Sea-Hawks. Tipoff is set for Feb. 11 at 6 p.m.