By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers rode a strong start all the way to the finish line, as they toppled the St. FX X-Women 69-54 for their fifth consecutive win.
The Panthers shot a blistering 81.3 per cent from the field and put up 34 points in the first quarter alone. The X-Women, meanwhile, mustered just 10, putting them in a hole they couldn't climb out of.
Jenna Mae Ellsworth scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the decisive quarter. The fourth-year guard had a strong all-around game adding five assists, five rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
"We wanted to give it our all and go for that win." said Ellsworth, who was named the Subway Player of the Game. "Last time we played them we lost and we had revenge on our mind."
Reese Baxendale also had a monster first with nine points. She finished with 11. Carolina Del Santo had 11 points as well and shot a perfect 5-of-5 from the field, while Karla Yepez filled the stat sheet with 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.
"There's about 20 possessions in a quarter and they went at it," said Panthers head coach Matt Gamblin. "They played angry in the way we attacked. We just have to bottle it up and use it the rest of the way."
St. FX's Aliyah Fraser came off the bench and kept her team in the game with the deep ball. The guard drilled three triples for nine points, while Kimberly Kingsbury added five more for the X-Women, who cut the deficit to 44-31 at halftime. Kingsbury and Fraser led the way for the visitors, finishing with 17 and 11 points, respectively.
In addition to making shots, the X-Women defended much better and didn't allow their opponent to get easy looks. After a stellar shooting display in the first, the Panthers were limited to just 10 points on 20 per cent shooting in the following quarter.
"We talk about consistency all the time and it may be human nature to step back a little bit. It's OK when that begins to happen, but when it begins to happen, you've got to stop it," said Gamblin.
There was a bit of a scare late in the half when it appeared as though Carolina Del Santo reaggravated her knee injury. She'd sit for the remainder of the quarter before returning in the third.
The Panthers came out of the break strong and extended the lead to 50-33 on an Ellsworth three-pointer followed by an old fashioned three-point effort by Del Santo.
Lauren Rainford drilled a corner triple and UPEI restored their 20-point advantage midway through the third. The offence on both sides cooled from there, but the home team still carried a 59-42 lead into the fourth.
Lexi MacInnis connected on a three-pointer early in the quarter, which was followed by a Baxendale midrange jumper, as their lead was pushed to 64-45. Ellsworth added the dagger layup with 3:30 remaining to make it a 67-49 game. They'd close it out 69-54 to remain undefeated in 2020.
After the game, Ellsworth expressed a bit of concern about the team's finish, especially after such a strong start.
"We kind of laid back there and I think we just have to keep pushing. I don't think it was anything the other team did, it was ourselves who pulled back," she said. "If we want to go further and get better, we need to push through the whole time. There can't be ups and downs."
The Panthers look for the weekend sweep on Saturday (Jan. 25) when they take on the same St. FX X-Women.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan