By Thomas Becker
When healthy, the UPEI Panthers are an elite team in the AUS.
Both players showed no signs of rust as Ellsworth finished with a team-high 21 points, six assists and four steals, while Del Santo — the reigning Defensive Player of the Year — recorded nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
"It's nice to have everyone back," said Panthers head coach Matt Gamblin. "These girls are used to playing together so they were able to come back from injury seamlessly."
UPEI (6-2) got another big effort from Reese Baxendale, who scored 15 points with six assists and three steals. She opened the game with a three-pointer and scored the team's first six points as they carried a 7-0 lead through the first five minutes. After an Acadia (6-2) timeout, The Panthers extended their advantage 12-0 with an Ellsworth layup followed by a Karla Yepez corner triple.
The Axewomen were held without a point for over seven minutes before Eva Widmeyer broke the goose egg with a layup. Yepez then countered with five straight points to make it 20-2. Yepez recorded the game's lone double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. After one, UPEI led 23-7 thanks to Baxendale and Yepez, who combined for 17 points.
UPEI's defence was smothering all night long. They held the league's best scoring team (82.1 points per game) to just 60 points on 34.3 per cent from the field. In 30 minutes of playing time, sophomore standout Jayda Veinot was limited to just three points, far below her 22.6 points per game average. Haley McDonald, meanwhile, managed to get 25 points, but took 22 shots to do so. She also turned the ball over seven times.
"Against great players, it takes a whole team effort," Gamblin said. "Everybody was aware of how we wanted to guard certain people and it paid off."
Annabelle Charron came in off the bench and provided good minutes in the second, scoring four quick points to grow the advantage. She also reached double figures with 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc in just 15 minutes of action
Back-to-back lay-ins by Lauren Rainford and Ellsworth made it 34-13. But the Axewomen ended the half with an 8-2 run capped off by a Haley McDonald triple to trim the deficit to 36-23. Yepez led all scorers with 11 at halftime, while McDonald had nine.
Mia Roberts and McDonald scored four each to start the third, but was countered by Ellsworth and Charron's combined seven points in a back and forth affair. Each time Acadia made a run, Ellsworth or Charron would counter with a big shot to keep at a double-digit lead.
Following a McDonald midrange jumper, the Panthers closed the final 2:47 of the quarter on an 8-0 run, ending in a Lauren Fleming three-pointer to take command 60-41. In 22 minutes of action, Fleming finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Between her and Charron, the bench outscored Acadia's 24-11.
Those two veterans gained valuable experience and confidence in the absence of their two all-star teammates and it showed tonight in their new roles.
"I think those two and some others are starting to find what their role is and how they can help the team," Gamblin said.
The team's depth in the face of adversity was one thing Ellsworth picked up on while she was sidelined with the injury.
"There are so many girls on this team that can step up and I was impressed with how they all played," said the Subway Player of the Game.
With such a large deficit in front of them, Acadia managed to get to within 13, but the Panthers were hungry for a big home win and closed the game on a 6-0 run for the 79-60 final.
"This was about us. We wanted to play a good team game with everyone back," Ellsworth said. "It's important for us to get it together in the next two months."
The Panthers travel to Halifax next where they'll take on the Saint Mary's Huskies for a Jan. 10 matchup.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan