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Tigers women’s basketball squad eliminated from AUS championships by UPEI

The Dalhousie University Tigers women’s basketball team hasn’t had the season it wanted.

They weren’t able to pull out a win this season. But the team also dealt with various struggles, from the injury bug to a COVID-19 outbreak in the locker room last month.

But that didn’t stop them from playing one of their best games of the season against Atlantic University Sport’s (AUS) top-ranked team, the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) Panthers. 

In their AUS quarterfinal, the Tigers came out strong to start each quarter and kept the deficit within single-digit points late into the game. But a late surge from UPEI was too much to handle, as the 2020 U Sports bronze medallists took the game 69-50

“Defence was a really big part for us,” UPEI’s Grace Lancaster said after posting 15 points Thursday night. “Sometimes you can’t really control what falls on offence. But defensively, if you keep sticking through, you’re going to do really well.”

Dal came out of the gate nearly unmoveable on defence, holding the first-place Panthers without a point for the game’s first five minutes. But in the process, they gathered several fouls which gave UPEI extended periods of possession. As a result, the Panthers ended the quarter on a 14-2 run. 

UPEI would continue their push to begin the second quarter, but Dal would respond with their own scoring as the game was breaking open on the scoreboard. The Panthers saw success from beyond the three-point arc to start and landed a number of lay-ups in close as the quarter went on. 

UPEI’s Lancaster had a big first half, in particular. She hit a pair of three-point shots while taking another play to the rim herself for a lay-up. 

“It gives everyone a lot of confidence,” Lancaster said of her timely shots. “It kind of just brings up the energy. We had really good energy today.”

The Tigers’ Lia Kentzler also came out flying, gathering six points and 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes alone. The team’s fourth-highest scorer this year, she would finish with a team-high 16 points and 15 rebounds.

Alike the first half, Dal was in control to start the second with an 11-4 run in the first four minutes. To cap off that run, Katie Crombeen registered a huge three-point play, hitting the jump shot while being knocked down, then following that with a free throw seconds later. 

“I think I did well finishing from the post and being patient,” Kentzler said of her game. “We changed our defence a little bit and we did a good job of that. Our defence was solid.”

Dal would get as close as within four points from UPEI in the quarter. The Panthers kept it up into the final minute of the third. Starting with a Reese Baxendale drive to the net and free throw. Seconds later, Lancaster knocked down a huge three. 

A nice passing play resulting in an Anna Parsons bucket seemed to give Dal a spark midway through the final quarter, as the Tigers embarked on a 4-0 run. But UPEI would quickly fight that back. That was the theme for much of the game as the Panthers were able to match any Dal hot streak. A 12-0 run late in the quarter sealed the game and a semifinal berth Saturday. 

“We played hard for 40 minutes and kept the intensity up,” UPEI coach Matthew Gamblin said. “Defence for the most part stayed where it needed to be. That helped us through some struggles offensively.”

It was, as AUS coach of the year Gamblin said, an abnormally low-scoring game for the sixth-ranked team in U Sports. The fewest points UPEI scored in a game this season was 67, which they did on four occasions.

“Kudos to our ladies. They executed our game plan at the beginning of the game,” Anton Berry, the Tigers’ interim head coach, said of his team’s effort tonight. “They have two dynamic scorers in [Lauren] Rainford and Baxendale, so our goal was to stop them. We did a pretty good job of doing that but we just couldn’t score.”

The Panthers await the winner of Friday’s matchup between the Memorial University Sea-Hawks and Cape Breton University Capers. Combined, UPEI lost just once to those teams, which came in their final regular-season game at Memorial.

“We need to bring that same kind of energy we had today,” Lancaster said. “If we bring that same defence too, because that was great today and it was a key part of our game.”

As for Dal, their season ends with that loss. But with the hurdles they’ve had to face through the 2021-2022 season, especially in the second half, Kentzler said there’s a lot to be proud of from their effort Thursday.

“I’m so proud. Everyone made huge steps, everyone worked hard on their game and tried their best to help the team,” she said. “We came together and never gave up. That says so much about our character.” 

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