By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers are an elite defensive team and they proved that again Saturday night when they took down the St. FX X-Women 61-39.
The Panthers held St. FX to under 10 points in two of the four quarters and forced 30 turnovers, leading to 31 points the other way. Six players recorded at least steals in one of the best defensive displays of the season.
"We believe that as long as we can get things going on the defensive end it will take us places," said Karla Yepez, who was one of the players who finished with two steals. She also added seven points and four assists in the win.
Yepez credits the team's defensive success to their willingness to communicate on that end of the floor.
"We communicate a lot," she said. "We're talking to each other the whole time and we try to defend as a group. It's not a one-on-one effort."
St. FX's Grace Rheault opened the scoring with a three-pointer and that was it for eight minutes, as the Panthers poured in 21 straight points to take a commanding lead. Jenna Mae Ellsworth continued to play at an MVP level and varied her attack with layups and a three-pointer to score nine of her team-high 21 points in the first quarter. She also finished with eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. After 10 minutes of action, UPEI led 21-7.
Both benches were a factor in a low-scoring second. For the Panthers, Lauren Fleming, Kimeshia Henry and Reilly Sullivan combined for nine points, while St. FX's Marley Bonnick played big inside with six. She had 10 points at halftime and finished with a team-high 21. Still, UPEI maintained their double-figure advantage at halftime, where they led 36-21.
Panthers head coach Matt Gamblin said he was pleased to see his team play with a consistent defensive effort even when shots weren't falling.
"It's an element of control that we have," he said. "You can always control your effort on defence, but you can't always control whether you make open threes. So that's something we need to hang our hat on."
With a scuffling offence, the home team went back to their all-star, who attacked the basket with success. Late in the third, Ellsworth went inside for back-to-back layups to push the lead to 44-25. Rainford split a pair of free throws moments later as the lead grew to 20.
Despite a strong fourth quarter from Bonnick, the X-Women were ineffective against the league's top defence, as UPEI earned the weekend sweep with the 6-39 win.
"That's our identity," Yepez said. "There are times in the game when things don't go our way on offence, but we never give things up on defence."
The Panthers meet the UNB Reds for the first time this season next Saturday in Fredericton.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan