Strong performances from UPEI's prized rookies were more than enough Friday night, as the Panthers defeated the StFX X-Women 53-45 in the opening game of the AUS regular season.
Carolina Del Santos recorded a double-double (18 points and 12 rebounds), while teammate Jenna Mae Ellsworth chipped in with a dozen points to lead UPEI.
"We expected good things from our new players and they delivered for us tonight," said head coach Greg Gould.
The Panthers held the lead from the opening tip and never relinquished it, as a strong defence effort held StFX to just 32.7 per cent shooting. But eight three-pointers on the night – four from Chelsea Provo and three from Jessica Miller – kept the X-Women in the game.
UPEI also struggled from the field, shooting just 32.4 per cent, but with the added size to the lineup, the Panthers were able to put up 19 more shots than their opponent by forcing 24 turnovers and grabbing 17 offensive rebounds.
"That was huge for us because rebounding was our Achilles' heel in past years," Gould said. "We are bigger, but our whole mentality is to go hard after the ball."
In front of a roaring crowd, UPEI jumped on StFX for a quick 5-0 start. As the opening day emotions settled, the X-Women came back with 6-2 run of their own to pull within one.
The unselfish Panthers then found fourth-year veteran Kiera Rigby for the triple, extending their lead 10-6. Ball distribution was key for the Panthers as they assisted on 18 of the 22 made field goals.
"We preach sharing the ball all the time and tonight it worked out our way," Gould said.
UPEI's defence was ahead of their offence to begin the game, as nerves resulted in some easy missed layups, but the Panthers were still able to take the quarter 12-9.
Both teams struggled to open the second before UPEI's other prized rookie, Karla Yepez, delivered a breakaway lay-in six minutes into the quarter. Yepez followed that up with a deep three, pushing the lead to 17-13. She scored five of the Panthers' 11 points in the quarter, while Ellsworth and Del Santos chipped in with the other six points, leading the home squad to a 23-15 halftime lead.
Both teams traded baskets to begin the third quarter before a Victoria Barbour three-pointer extended UPEI's lead 31-20. Following the triple, StFX trimmed the lead 31-25 behind a 5-0 run. But the Panthers finished the quarter strong and took a nine-point lead into the fourth.
After the opening game jitters faded, Del Santos' offensive game flourished. The six-foot-one centre out of Barcelona, Spain scored 10 of her 18 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) in the final frame, leading the Panthers to the 53-45 win.
"One game doesn't tell you a whole lot, but anytime you win you have to feel pretty good," Gould said. "Hopefully we can come away with strong effort tomorrow and pick up another win."
The Panthers (1-0) and X-Women (0-1) are at it again Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. at the Chi-Wan Young Sports Centre.
Courtesy Thomas Becker, UPEI Sports Information