HALIFAX, N.S. - The UPEI Panthers are AUS champions after defeating the Acadia Axewomen by a score of 78-59 in Sunday's Subway AUS Women's Basketball Championship final. This mark's the Panthers' first conference banner since the 1997-98 season.
AUS first team all-star Reese Baxendale led the way for the Panthers with 25 points on 9-of-20 from the floor, including 5-of-12 from three. She also contributed seven assists, five rebounds and three steals in the effort, winning her Championship MVP, Subway Player of the Game honours and a place on the tournament all-star team.
Acadia was led in scoring by AUS first team all-star Haley McDonald who chipped in 18 points (7-of-23 from the floor, 1-of-8 from three), four assists, three rebounds and three steals in the loss.
Acadia opened the game's scoring with a driving layup by Rachel Clouatre-Trudeau, however the Axewomen struggled to knock down some long jumpers early, going 0-for-5 from three over the first 10 minutes.
McDonald led the way for Acadia with seven first-quarter points, helping the Axewomen to an 18-17 lead heading to the second.
The Panthers led by as many as six points in the opening quarter as AUS first team all-star Reese Baxendale found her shot early, matching McDonald's seven points on 3-of-4 shooting while picking up three assists in the opening frame.
AUS most valuable player, defensive player of the year, and first team all-star Jenna Mae Ellsworth, who was held to two points in the opening quarter, knocked down two threes at the beginning of the second on her way to 10 points in the quarter, and helped UPEI take a 37-31 lead into halftime.
Baxendale and Ellsworth led all scorers at the break with 12 apiece for the Panthers, while McDonald and Clouatre-Trudeau led the Axewomen with nine points each.
Mia Roberts started the third quarter on a mission, scoring eight straight Axewomen points over the first five minutes of the second half, but the Panthers always had an answer, keeping Acadia at bay.
UPEI's defence, anchored by Ellsworth, held the prolific-scoring McDonald in check through three quarters with 13 points on 5-of-17 from the field and 0-for-5 from deep.
Baxendale continued to score well in the third with seven in the quarter en route to 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting heading into the fourth as the Panthers led the Axewomen 54-47 with just 10 minutes to play.
Acadia began the fourth showing full-court pressure on defence, turning a couple of UPEI turnovers into easy points at the rim and cutting the lead down to three points with 7:07 to play, but Baxendale immediately knocked down yet another timely three, pushing the lead back to six.
The Panthers refused to be denied, though, as they ended the game on a 16-0 run that began at the 5:12 mark, holding the Axewomen scoreless over the final 5:42 of the game, and ending the game with their biggest lead at 19 points.
This is the Panthers' first women's basketball banner since the 1997-98 season.
Tournament all-stars for the women's event are Memorial's Haille Nickerson, UNB's Michaela Dodig, Acadia's Haley McDonald and UPEI's Ellsworth and Baxendale.
The Panthers will travel to Ottawa, Ont. for the U SPORTS Final 8 women's basketball championship being co-hosted by the University of Ottawa and Carleton March 5-8