By Thomas Becker
Beware AUS, the UPEI Panthers are creeping up the standings. And fifth-year guard Kiera Rigby is a big reason why.
Her MVP-calibre season continued Saturday night, as she scored a season-high 31 points to take down the Cape Breton Capers 76-65.
For head coach Greg Gould, it's a luxury he's grateful to have.
"Our offence has been good the last few weeks," said head coach Greg Gould. "Kiera has certainly been leading that charge. When she scores like that it really puts a lot of pressure on the defence and it opens things up for other players."
Winners of three in a row and five of their last six, the surging Panthers' inspired play since Christmas has bumped them up from sixth to third place in the standings.
"After beating Acadia, a lot people might think we're a one-hit wonder, but the win tonight shows us that we can compete and deserve to compete with the best," said Rigby, who was named Subway Player of the Game. "We're really putting ourselves in a good position to get a bye."
Cape Breton (7-6) forwards Alison Keough and Hannah Brown got things going early for the Capers, but Jenna Mae Ellsworth scored seven consecutive for the Panthers (7-6) who took an early 11-8 advantage.
Then it was time for the league's top scorer (Rigby) to get in on the action, as she scored four in a row to push the lead to 15-8. She had nine in the quarter.
The visiting Capers cut into the deficit with back-to-back threes by Toni Bianchini and Brown, but the Panthers held on for a 22-17 lead heading into into the second quarter.
Orchestrated by an offence that consistently beat Cape Breton off the dribble, the Panthers continued to roll in the second as they took command 39-23 behind a 17-6 run.
Rigby was unstoppable in the half with 17 points (on 8-of-11 shooting), while Ellsworth scored 12 of her 16 points to lead UPEI 45-31 at the break.
After shooting 59.4 per cent in the opening half, the Panthers cooled down in the third where they shot just 27.3 per cent from the field. Their defence, however, remained persistent as they held their opponent to 25 per cent shooting in the frame (30 per cent overall). Sandra Amoah's eight third-quarter points helped the struggling Capers narrowly cut into the deficit 59-48.
Cape Breton leaned on their bread and butter (Brown and Keough) in the final quarter and managed to trim it to a six-point game. But Keough's team-high 19 points was overshadowed by Rigby's 31, as the Panthers came away with the 76-65 win.
Brown recorded a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but shot just 5-of-17 to get there. Carolina Del Santo was a big part in containing the league's second leading scorer with her strong defence in the paint. She also recorded an impressive stat line that you don't see very often – 11 rebounds, eight blocks, five points and four assists.
"Give Carolina a lot of credit. She basically played her (Brown) one-on-one and did good job," said Gould. "The idea is to make her shoot the ball over the top and make it difficult."
The Panthers aim for the weekend sweep as they host the Capers again on Jan. 28 at 1 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan