By Thomas Becker
Sometimes you have to win them ugly.
That's what the UPEI Panthers did Friday night when they toppled the Saint Mary's Huskies 65-57 in a defensive grind.
Leading up to the fourth quarter, the Panthers (4-1) shot just 30.4 per cent from the field and trailed by one. They'd eventually find their rhythm in the final frame, as the trio of Carolina Del Santo, Jenna Mae Ellsworth and reserve Lauren Flemming combined to score 15 of the team's 22 fourth-quarter points to lead their team to victory.
"You need to be able to win in all circumstances, whether it's both teams shooting lights out or it's an uglier game like it was tonight," said Panthers head coach Matt Gamblin.
UPEI matched their opponent's defensive intensity step for step and limited Saint Mary's to just 36.9 per cent shooting. The guards were in their stance, pressuring the ball and if the Huskies (0-4) managed to get through, defensive anchor Del Santo was there waiting, ready to contest the drive to the basket. The third-year centre made her presence felt and filled the stat sheet with 13 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.
"They [Saint Mary's] play a lot of pick and rolls and defending that was the key tonight," said Del Santo, who was named the Subway Player of the Game.
The two teams traded baskets throughout the first quarter. No team held a lead larger than three, but a Saint Mary's three-pointer at the buzzer gave them a 17-15 advantage after one. Josie Gascoigne had eight of her 12 points for the visiting Huskies, while Ellsworth countered with seven of her game-high 16 points.
Forward Belinda Ndaye went to work in the post and scored four straight to extend their lead 24-17 midway through the second. However, the Panthers responded with layups from reserves Julie Campbell and Kimeshia Henry to claw back into it.
It was an uncharacteristic half for the Panthers, who laboured offensively and shot just 28.6 per cent from the field. Still, their defence held the Huskies at bay long enough for them to retake the lead, as Ellsworth drilled a triple at the buzzer to pull her team ahead 27-26 at halftime.
"Jenna Mae's performance tonight was huge," Gamblin said. "We were struggling to string together two baskets in a row, so to have Jenna Mae hit some of those pull-ups was massive for us."
The back and forth affair continued well into the third and just like they did in the first quarter, the Huskies edged out the Panthers thanks to Alaina McMillan's layup as time expired. With the help of Arianna Macias and Kendra MacKinnon's 10 combined third-quarter points, Saint Mary's took a slim 44-43 advantage into the fourth. Macias would finish with a team-high 16 points, while MacKinnon had 10.
At the 8:48 mark, Del Santo drilled the go-ahead jumper to give her Panthers the 47-46 lead. That basket sparked the team, as they closed out the quarter on an 18-10 run to come away with the 65-57 win.
UPEI looks for the weekend sweep when they take on these same Huskies on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan