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Women basketball Panthers a win away from first-round bye

UPEI Panthers forward Karla Yepez, right, takes a shot over Acadia Axewomen's Shalyn Field Friday during Atlantic University Sport basketball action.
UPEI Panthers forward Karla Yepez, right, takes a shot over Acadia Axewomen's Shalyn Field Friday during Atlantic University Sport basketball action. - Jason Malloy
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The UPEI Panthers are one step closer to earning the coveted first-round bye for the Atlantic University Sport women’s basketball championships.

Jane McLaughlin had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Panthers to a 76-66 victory over the Acadia Axewomen Friday in Charlottetown. The Panthers can clinch the bye with a win over Acadia Saturday on home court at 6 p.m.

UPEI Panthers guard Jenna Mae Ellsworth takes a shot Friday against Acadia Axewomen during Atlantic University Sport women's basketball action.
UPEI Panthers guard Jenna Mae Ellsworth takes a shot Friday against Acadia Axewomen during Atlantic University Sport women's basketball action.

“More than anything, we think about it being our last home game,” head coach Matt Gamblin said. “We’re not looking two weeks ahead. We’re just saying it’s our last home game of the year, it’s senior day – they don't need any more motivation than that.”

UPEI (15-2) is tied with Cape Breton (16-2) for top spot. Both teams have 42 points in the unbalanced conference where some games are worth two points and others four. The Panthers hold the tie-breaker. The top two teams earn a bye into the conference semifinals on March 2 in Halifax and avoid having to play three games in three days to win the championship.

Acadia (13-5) is four points back of the leaders. UPEI has three games left while the other two squads are down to two.

McLaughlin is a fifth-year veteran from Fortune. She knows a win Saturday would complete a perfect 10-0 season on home court and clinch the first-round bye.

“We want to solidify that bye,” she said. “It’s like all these things that we’ve never had that we’re really fighting for.”

UPEI led 19-18 after the first quarter and 41-32 at the half.

The Axewomen cut the deficit to one midway through the third quarter, tied it and took a 49-47 lead with 3:25 left in the quarter before the home side went on a 10-2 run to close out the quarter, capped by a Baxendale trey at the buzzer.

“We did a good job of stemming (the run) against a very well-coached team that made adjustments,” Gamblin said.

Backcourt mates Jenna Mae Ellsworth and Reese Baxendale each had 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal. Carolina Del Santo had nine points to go with team-highs of 13 rebounds, five assists and five blocks while Lauren Fleming contributed 10 points off the bench.

“I’ve said it all year, we’re deeper than people think we are, and we showed it,” Gamblin said.

Acadia guard Haley MacDonald had a game-high 24 points to go with six assists while Sarsha Cadle had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

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