By Thomas Becker
The game had the makings of a blowout, but the Saint Mary's Huskies put up a valiant effort as the UPEI Panthers squeezed out a 57-53 win Saturday night.
After taking the first quarter 16-1, the Panthers' lead slowly evaporated and even turned into a deficit. But a late run in the fourth turned the tide back in their favour, which was a relief for head coach Matt Gamblin.
"I echo the fact that they [Saint Mary's] are a very well coached team and they took away a lot of things from us," Gamblin said.
This isn't the first time the Panthers (5-1) have surrendered a "comfortable" lead and it's something Gamblin will address moving forward.
"We have to be more decisive," he said of his offence. "When teams take away plan A, what's plan B? The more we get in games like that, the better we'll be."
The first quarter was all about defence for the Panthers, who limited their opponent to a single free throw in 10 minutes.
Offensively, they showed how effective a balanced attack can be. Their bench matched the production of the starters with eight points aside, as they seized control 16-1. Lauren Fleming led the way with four points and finished with eight on the night.
The Huskies (0-5) finally connected on their shots to open the second and trimmed the deficit to 16-9 behind an 8-0 run. After burning a timeout, Gamblin's team responded in a big way. Karla Yepez led the charge from the low post with eight consecutive points, while Fleming continued her strong play and closed the half with four straight to push their lead to 29-17.
Yepez's versatility was the driving force of UPEI's offence as the Huskies struggled to contain her. She finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks to earn Subway Player of the Game honours.
"Matt asked me to go to the five for a bit and my teammates did a good job of finding me inside," she said. "I'm glad I could have a good game and help us win."
Saint Mary's head coach Scott Munro must of said something at halftime because his team came out with confidence. Possession by possession, the Huskies slowly cut into the lead and in the final play of the quarter, Safiya Hurst was fouled driving to the cup. At the line, she knocked down the pair to give her team their first lead of the game 40-38. Estelle Eduardo and Arianna Macias combined for 13 third-quarter points to help push them ahead.
However, the Panthers' backcourt wasn't going to let this game slip away. After trailing by as many as six, Jenna Mae Ellsworth went to work and deposited the hoop and the harm, which was followed by a Carolina Del Santo layup and a Reese Baxendale triple, as UPEI reclaimed the lead 49-47.
With a chance to tie it in the dying seconds, Eduardo drove it to the hole, but was denied by Yepez, who recovered the massive block. After she was intentionally fouled, she iced the game with a pair of free throws to close out the 57-53 win.
The Panthers head to Fredericton to take on the UNB Reds for their final game of 2018. Tip off is Nov. 24 at 6 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan