The UPEI Panthers will be looking to earn some respect starting tonight at the Atlantic University Sport men’s basketball championship in Halifax.
The third-ranked Panthers play the hometown Saint Mary’s Huskies at 8:15 p.m. in quarter-final play.
“I think a lot of teams are definitely overlooking us,” said guard Joe Kendrick.
“I kind of like that role going into it, being the underdog.”
It’s easy to see why.
In his first university season in 2008, Kendrick’s Brock teammates jelled at the right time and won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship despite going in ranked seventh of eight teams.
Kendrick sees similarities with this year’s Panther squad and hopes to share his playoff experience with his young teammates.
“I like to talk to some of the younger guys, just to keep everybody’s heads level. It’s just another game for us,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a big deal going into the Metro Centre in front of bigger crowds and a bigger stadium. We just have to come out like it’s another day for us, just another game we have to win to get where we want to be.”
It will also be homecoming for Mandrez Downey, Deontay (D.J.) Smith and Geoff Doane, who are all from the Halifax area, while Kendrick and Lorenzo Parker grew up an hour away in the Annapolis Valley.
“It’s going to be a really exciting thing for a lot of us,” Kendrick said.
But “once the game starts, it’s going to be all business.”
Downey said one of the keys would be maintaining focus, particularly playing in such a big game as a rookie.
“It means a lot,” he said. “We practice to be play in these types of games.”
While the Panthers have five first-year university players, many of them have big-game experience from high school or Canada Games.
Downey remembers playing for Cole Harbour during his Grade 11 season and watching Doane and his Sir John A. Macdonald school team erase an 18-point lead at the half for a come-from-behind victory in the provincial championship game.
“We have to play to the end. A big lead at the start doesn’t mean nothing,” Downey said, “just the lead at the end of the game.”
The Panthers have won the conference title four times with the last being in 2003.
They previously won in 1986, 1988 and 1989.
AUS Men’s Basketball
6 p.m. – St. F.X. (4) vs. Dalhousie (5)
8:15 p.m. – Saint Mary’s (6) vs. UPEI (3)
6 p.m. – Game 1 winner vs. Cape Breton (1)
8:15 p.m. – Game 2 winner vs. Acadia (2)
2 p.m. – Final
The following is a look at the games between UPEI and Saint Mary’s this season.
u Nov. 18 – UPEI 93 Saint Mary’s 92
u Jan. 11 – Saint Mary’s 66 UPEI 95
u Jan. 12 – Saint Mary’s 72 UPEI 92
u Jan. 26 – UPEI 73 Saint Mary’s 90
2011-12 - Acadia
2010-11 - Dalhousie
2009-10 - Cape Breton
2008-09 - Dalhousie
2007-08 - Saint Mary’s
2006-07 - Acadia
2005-06 - St. F.X.
2004-05 - St. F.X.
2003-04 - St. F.X.
2002-03 - UPEI