Can any rivalry in sports in this state beat what Pima Community College and Mesa Community College have going on in women’s hoops?
For the 10th time in the last 11 years (since 2009), No. 1 Pima and No. 2 Mesa will face each other to determine the NJCAA Region I, Division II champion bound for the Division II national tournament.
The teams will play Saturday night at 7 at Pima’s West Gym. The home team has won the regional title matchup in that span.
Pima's schedule poster: "Never Outworked" pic.twitter.com/N3EXO4C8Qe
“It’s a tradition now, I guess you can say,” said Pima coach Todd Holthaus (in his ninth season) after his team defeated No. 4 Chandler-Gilbert 92-83 on Tuesday night in a semifinal game.
“One of the best coached teams in our conference (Mesa coach Kori Stephenson), we know each other well and it’s always a war. I’m sure it will be the same way Saturday night. We’ve got to be ready.”
Mesa is 15-16 but the Thunderbirds have won five straight games, including Tuesday night’s 61-36 win over visiting No. 3 South Mountain. Pima swept the regular season series with Mesa, winning 80-60 at home on Jan. 5 and 78-70 at Mesa on Feb. 13.
Pima’s career leading scorer Jacqulynn (J.J.) Nakai had 32 points in the first matchup and 37 in the second game. Combined, she made 21 of 39 shots in both games with 11 assists.
Pima guard J.J. Nakai, the school's career scoring leader, talking with coach Todd Holthaus. I have been told that Boise State, Gonzaga and NAU are here watching Nakai. pic.twitter.com/6LwbrtDgXV
“It’s should be a good (matchup), honestly, because both of us are playing in the championship, so of course, both teams are going to give their all-effort,” said Nakai, who had 27 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the field and 8 of 10 from the foul line in the win over Chandler-Gilbert.
“We’re going to come as prepared as we can. I’m pretty sure they know us, we know them. Just keep doing our thing.”
Nakai, who now has 1,276 points in her career, along with versatile forwards Shauna Bribiescas and Hallie Lawson embody Pima’s motto of “Never Outworked,” which is boldly displayed on the team poster this season.
Bribiescas owned the paint offensively against Glendale-Chandler, making 9 of 13 shots for 23 points with nine rebounds. She can also extend the defense away from the basket, as does Lawson, who was 10 of 15 from the field for 22 points and five rebounds.
Nakai, Bribiescas and Lawson combined to shoot 27 of 40 from the field with 14 assists. As a team, Pima was an efficient 23 assists on 35 field goals made.
Haile Gleason contributed 10 points — eight consecutive points for the Aztecs in one second-quarter stretch — while making all four of her field goal attempts.
“We played well for the most part,” said Holthaus, whose team built as big as a 24-point lead before having to withstand Chandler-Gilbert’s 32-17 charge in the fourth quarter. “We got a little sloppy at the end. We got a little too comfortable. I guess that just helps to keep their focus though.
“The good thing is we got a playoff win and we know we need to play better.”
Basket by Shauna Bribiescas. Aztecs lead 48-27 with 1:57 left 2Q. Four Pima players in double figures already — Bribiescas, Nakai, Gleason and Lawson. pic.twitter.com/25jTxQQfrZ
Despite the downturn on defense in the second half (allowing Chandler-Gilbert to make 9 of 18 from beyond the arc), Pima shot 60.3 percent (35 of 58) from the field and 50 percent (8 of 16) from 3-point range.
A defense has a difficult task trying to stop Nakai, who occasionally drew triple-teams, allowing Bribiescas and Lawson some space. Bribiescas took advantage of that in the lane with her fundamentals while Lawson was effective with her mid-range shooting.
“We just really try to work together,” Bribiescas said. “Hallie has a jumper. Me and Hallie are kind of more versatile. J.J., she has a great passes and she is able to hit us and look for us and we try to get some shots, too.”
Holthaus added that Bribiescas “did a really good job tonight,” especially because she heeded his advice to attack the basket around the rim.
Hallie Lawson for two. Pima beating Chandler-Gilbert 16-10 with 2:51 left first half. pic.twitter.com/DB8M3hykgd
“She’s good inside and outside but she’s really effective inside. If you get a few easy baskets, it kind of settles everybody down, gets her confidence up and makes her take the focus off J.J. a little bit more and balances things a little bit.
“And Hallie played really well, especially being a freshman. That makes it exciting for next year.”
* * *
The Pima men take the court on Wednesday night at 7 at the West Gym in a Region I, Division II semifinal against Glendale Community College. Former Cholla standout Abram Carrasco has 1,229 career points and needs only 12 points to pass Greg Cook’s Pima scoring record of 1,240 points.