By Thomas Becker
In her final home game as a Panther, Kiera Rigby led the way with 20 points en route to a 71-63 win over the Cape Breton Capers Sunday afternoon.
After taking the first quarter 23-11, the Panthers never looked back as they controlled the game from start to finish.
"I think we've been playing very well in the second half of the season," said Panthers head coach Greg Gould. "The fact that we've beaten every team is very positive."
With only two games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs quickly approaching, Gould said he's encouraged with his team's performance heading into the postseason tournament in Halifax next month.
"For me, it's not who we play but how we play," he said. "Our game preparation has been about what we want to do, not so much about what the other team does."
Jenna Mae Ellsworth and Rigby got things going early for the Panthers (9-9) with back-to-back triples, as they jumped out to an early 6-2 lead.
UPEI extended the lead 16-6 midway through the quarter behind a Jane McLaughlin three, followed by a contested layup for Ellsworth, forcing the Capers (12-6) to call a timeout. McLaughlin recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards.
The timeout did little to help as Cape Breton was held to just 26.3 per cent shooting in the quarter. The Panthers, meanwhile, shot a blistering 52.9 per cent (including four made threes) and took a 23-11 lead into the second. Rigby led the way with eight points, while Ellsworth had seven of her 14 points in the frame.
Toni Bianchini drained a long-range jumper to pull the Capers within nine points to begin the second, but the Panthers responded with a Rigby lay-in and a Victoria Barbour three to push the advantage back up to 14.
After missing a few games due to injury, Carolina Del Santo came off the bench on Sunday and made an immediate impact. Del Santo connected on her first two shots as she extended the Panthers' lead 33-18.
But the veteran-savvy Capers finished the half on a 9-0 run to make it 33-27. Hannah Brown scored six of her eight first-half points during the three-minute spurt. Brown finished with 12 points and six rebounds off the bench.
Both teams traded baskets to begin the second half, but Ellsworth and Rigby connected on a pair of deep daggers to push the lead to 44-32.
After scoring only 10 points in the second quarter, the Panthers responded with 18 in the third. Yepez was one of three players to score five points in the frame. She finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the double-double.
Cape Breton was able to trim the deficit to as few as five in final minutes of the game, but that's when Rigby took over and iced the game with free throws for the 71-63 final.
Capers' star Alison Keough continued her strong season recording a game-high 22 points and 16 rebounds in the loss.
The Panthers hit the road next where they'll take on the Dalhousie Tigers. Tipoff is set for Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.