EDMONTON – Starting on the right foot, the University of Alberta Pandas had a big first half, especially the first quarter, to claim a 68-59 victory over the Trinity Western University Spartans, Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Senior forward Elle Hendershot led the scoring for the home team, recording her 12th career double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Sophomore guard Emma Kary earned a baker's dozen in points on the scoresheet, while third-year guard Megan Tywoniuk also cracked the double-digit barrier with 11 points.
Fourth-year forward Tessa Ratzlaff (Abbotsford, B.C.) put up a team-high 16 points, while fourth-year guard Jessie Brown (Langley, B.C.) netted 13 and third-year guard Sarah Buckingham (Surrey, B.C.) added 12. Senior forward Kayla Gordon (Prince George, B.C.) had a team-high 13 rebounds to go with eight points.
The home team burst out of the gate with offence, connecting on five of their first six shots, and using a first-quarter shooting percentage of 67 per cent to earn a nine-point lead after 10 minutes.
Kary drained three buckets inside the paint and added a three-ball, while the visiting Spartans struggled, only hitting six baskets of 17 from the field.
The cold shooting continued into the second quarter while the Pandas put together a 12-2 run, improving their lead to as much as 21 and entering halftime with a 45-26 scoreline.
Not to be silenced, the Spartans came into the third quarter and started chipping away at the deficit, earning eight points off turnovers despite getting outrebounded.
Brown, who is TWU's usual three-ball specialist, used her skills in the paint and at the charity stripe to pull the road squad to within seven with just under seven minutes left, suggesting the game's story was far from set in stone.
Yet rookie guard Jenna Harpe sealed the victory with a three-ball with 4:20 left in the game, which expanded Alberta's lead back to 15.
The Spartans tried to get back into the game one more time, but the deficit proved too large and the Pandas were able to hold TWU at bay to claim the home-opening win.
Head Coach Cheryl Jean-Paul
"I'm excited for what this group will be capable of this season, but we have to keep learning the hard way that you have to push back defensively until your shots start dropping. We gave up way too many points in the first half and to dig ourselves out of that kind of deficit is tough. We will keep working through the mental focus required to start the game better, knowing that our style of play takes 40 minutes to develop.
"Tomorrow night will be another opportunity to make a statement to ourselves that we can compete at a high level with some of the best teams if we commit to the little things it takes to run with top Canada West programs."
Both teams will meet again in the second game of their weekend series. Tip-off is at 4 p.m. (PT).