This weekend will be a big test for the first-place UPEI Panthers men’s basketball team.
The club is on the road for two games – today at Cape Breton University to take on the fourth-place Capers, and Sunday at St. F.X. to battle the third-place X-Men.
Game times are 8 and 4 p.m., respectively.
With only five games remaining in the Atlantic University Sport regular season, every game’s points could dramatically alter the look of the final standings. This weekend’s games are worth four points each.
“This weekend is huge,” co-captain Jonathan Cooper said this week. “Even though we’re at the top of the AUS standings right now, we still feel like we don’t get the respect we deserve and would like to come out and prove our worth on Saturday and Sunday.
“These games are four points each and that motivates us even more,” the fifth-year shooting guard added. “We’re preparing for playoffs, and would love to enter the AUS final six with a bye.”
The Panthers enter the weekend without the services of one of their Big Three, however.
Point guard Terrence Brown left last Sunday’s game versus Dalhousie with an injured right knee.
He will remain in Charlottetown this weekend, where he continues to receive physiotherapy.
“There’s no point in rushing things at this time,” Cooper told The Guardian. “We want him back healthy and ready for playoffs.”
Rookie point guard Ollen Smith will get his first AUS start Saturday in Brown’s place.
"Ollen is a very talented player who will step in and play well," head coach Tim Kendrick explained. Starting Smith will also allow Kendrick to remain with his current rotation and game plan.
The coach is expecting big things from each of his starters this weekend.
"I'm very confident in my team this weekend," he said. "We're not going to be outworked or outhustled. That's for sure.
"They're big games," Kendrick added. "If we can get both of these, it would put us in a great position. We'd like to get both. We're trying to dictate the play ... go out there and get after it.”
It’s been a big week for the coach, who secured the rights to a player he believes is one of the best 18-year-old players in the Maritimes.
Lorenzo Parker, a guard with the Horton High School Griffins, will join the Panthers next season.
Two other top prospects are expected to announce their intentions to join the school soon, Kendrick said.
"We're going to be good for a long time," he said.
The 2-13 lwomen Panthers are also on the road to take on Cape Breton (8-5) and St. F.X. (7-7).
Captain Katie Moore is expected to play after missing last weekend's game with a sprained ankle.
The return of the fifth-year centre should provide a boost on the boards.
Head coach Carly Clarke said her team will continue to compete and build down the stretch.
"I think we need to compete how we have proven we can compete," she said. "Good starts will be key in both games."
Clarke hopes her players will continue to build on the confidence they have discovered during the second half of the season.
Game times are today at 6 p.m. vs. CBU, and Sunday at 2 p.m. vs. St. F.X.
Both matchups are four-point games.