© Jason Malloy/The Guardian
The UPEI Panthers are looking to take the next step in their progression.
The men's basketball team lost in the quarter-final of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championship in 2012 and 2013.
They lost in the semifinal the past two seasons, but tonight they have a chance to cash their ticket to the final.
"We're tired of getting so close and then just letting it slip away, so we're going for it all this year," said guard Tyler Scott.
Scott and Bradley States are both fourth-year players in the conference, who played at Acadia the first two years.
Lorenzo Parker is the only Panther to be part of UPEI's last four trips to the conference playoffs at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
"We're good enough that I feel we should be (in the final), but I don't feel any pressure at all," he said. "As long as we play together and stay poised I don't think there's a reason we won't win."
The Panthers started the season 5-0 before going 7-8 the rest of the way. However, the team accumulated enough points to finish second in the tight conference and earn a first-round bye.
"Every team goes through (bumps along the road), and we're glad that we went through our adversity during the season and we'll be ready for Saturday night," Scott said.
Head coach Tim Kendrick said he's tired of talking about different parts of the season. He said they earned the bye and are expecting to advance tonight.
"We're looking for a win tomorrow night and that's all we're concentrating on," he said Friday. "We're not worried about the last few games or we're not worried about the first five games."
The team has achieved its first two goals of making the playoffs and earning a bye.
The third is winning the conference championship.
"I think we're due for a little luck," Kendrick said. "Anybody that wins will tell you they got a little luck somewhere."
Last year, the Panthers ran into early foul trouble to its key forwards. The year before it was injuries.
Kendrick said the basketball setup is different than other sports, which have series to determine champions. A bad stretch in a basketball game and your season can be over. A team peaks at the right time, and they can be champs.
It happened last year when fifth-seeded Dalhousie won it all. They enter this year as the first-place team.
Scott and States won the championship with Acadia in their rookie seasons and went to the final the next year before losing to Cape Breton.
They are two of the Panthers key cogs, but Scott said it's going to take a team to be victorious this weekend. He is confident all the players will rise to the occasion, regardless if they have been to AUS playoffs before or not.
He pointed to point guard Amin Suleman as an example. He joined the starting lineup earlier this season and Thursday was named to the conference's all-rookie team.
"That's the young bull," Scott said. "He leads us. I've never seen a kid with a heart like that. . . I know these guys know how much it means and they'll be ready."
A look at the Atlantic University Sport men's basketball championship in Halifax. Teams' seeds are in parenthesis:
Saint Mary's (5) 102 UNB (4) 93
Acadia (3) 69 Cape Breton (6) 68
6:30 p.m. - Saint Mary's (5) vs. Dalhousie (1).
8:30 p.m. - Acadia (3) vs. UPEI (2).
4:30 p.m. - final.
Matchup – UPEI and Acadia split four games this season with each team winning twice on home court.
Did you know? UPEI has four conference titles with the last coming in 2003.
A look at the UPEI Panthers men's basketball team's statistical leaders:
Points per game
Tyler Scott 25.1
Bradley States 19
Lorenzo Parker 12
Dut Dut 10.7
Rebounds per game
Dut Dut 8
Bradley States 7.8
Tyler Scott 7.6
Assists per game
Zachary Usherwood 3.7
Tyler Scott 3.4
Jake Kendrick 2.3
Bradley States 2.2
Steals per game
Bradley States 1.9
Tyler Scott 1.4