The water was flowing but the tears were not.
The Aztecs have been here before. The emotions were more of euphoria and determination.
Pima’s locker room at the West campus gym on Friday night, after the Aztecs routed Scottsdale 107-73, was a wet-and-wild scene with the Aztecs spraying water bottles and dumping a large bucket of water on coach Brian Peabody. Their third straight Region I Division II title achieved, the Aztecs now have their sights set on another NJCAA Division II national tournament run.
“I told the guys in the locker room, ‘This is just our first step. We have another four games to win,'” said sophomore forward Robby Wilson, a Salpointe Catholic product who had 21 points and 10 rebounds in the win over the Artichokes.
“We’ve got to get back to the national championship and win it for the guys that started this whole thing.”
The Aztecs (26-6) advance to national tournament that runs from Mar. 19-23 at the Mary Miller Center in Danville, Ill. In 2017, the Aztecs advanced to the Elite Eight. Last year, Peabody’s team made it to the national title, losing to Triton College 89-85 in a game that went down to the wire.
Only two players who participated in that game — Wilson and former Cholla guard Abram Carrasco — are playing now. Wilson and Carrasco, selected the co-MVPs of the regional tournament Friday night, were reserves last season.
“Robby and Abram are obviously the keys to our team,” Peabody said. “They were there last year, saw how close we got. They were like, ‘Hey, we’ve got four more in us.’ I think they’ll be focused the entire time and hopefully we can get it done this year.”
Former Tucson High School standouts Jordan Robinson and Davonte and Deondre Eason were part of last year’s team, but they redshirted and did not get the opportunity to play in the national tournament. Ironwood Ridge grad Cole Gerken and Sabino alum Travis Walker also sat out last season.
“I’ve been playing with Davonte Eason and Dre Eason since high school, and they are my brothers,” said Robinson, who finished with 16 points and four assists against Scottsdale. “When we’re together it’s a blessing. We wanted a championship in high school. It’s sad we didn’t get one in high school.
“But get one in JUCO, and college, that’s a big achievement for me. … Our goal was getting back to the national championship and finally get the ring.”
All five of Pima’s starters from last year’s team are gone. All five of the starters against Scottsdale on Friday night scored in double figures, producing 84 percent of the Aztecs’ point total in the game.
Former @SalpointeMBB standout Robby Wilson, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds in @PimaMens_bball 's regional final rout of Scottsdale, says this "this is the first step … we have four more games to win" for the national title. pic.twitter.com/1EzI1bLRXI
With such a overhaul, Peabody understandably could have been concerned, but he was confident the Aztecs could put it all together again.
“I knew we were good. I knew we were talented. Bringing it all together and piecing it all together is the hard part,” Peabody said. “I just kept telling the guys we’re going to get better and better and better. We obviously did. It showed tonight.
“I thought at Christmas time we had a chance to win the region. We’re playing in probably the best region in the country. We played Cochise. We played Odessa which was ranked third in the country. … We’re not afraid to play anybody. We’ve had a really hard schedule. We’re really good here, at 19-2 winning 90 percent playing the best teams.”
Tucson High grad Jordan Robinson, who scored 16 points in the win for @PimaMens_bball, talks about going to the NJCAA Division II national tournament with former Badger teammates Davonte and Deondre Eason. pic.twitter.com/4lt3qLDOu9
Sophomore Kennedy Koehler, who came to Pima this season with only one year of eligibility, and Wilson form one of the best frontcourt duos in the nation. Koehler produced his 19th double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Wilson had his 15th double-double.
Freshman guard Rashad Smith, who is getting attention from Division I programs, scored 17 points, many of them off highlight-reel dunks. Carrasco, who became Pima’s career scoring leader this season, had 14 points and seven assists.
The Aztecs shot an unreal 69.7 percent from the field in the first half to take a 60-36 lead at halftime and they coasted from there.
Jordan Robinson of @PimaMens_bball talks about the Aztecs' 107-73 win over Scottsdale in the regional final, a dominating performance that shows they are ready for the national tournament again. pic.twitter.com/n08FT13760
The Aztecs under Peabody are reloading year to year now. The days of rebuilding the once-dormant program are over.
“The groundwork was laid about five years ago when we started to build the program and obviously all the hard work has paid off,” said Peabody, who has coached at Pima the last six seasons and has 30 years of coaching overall at the high school and junior college level.
“It’s a lot of fun. It never gets old. I know I get old but this never gets old.”
Recruits were on campus today and they attended tonight’s game which was played in front of a capacity crowd.
“Recruiting is a lot easier now than when I first got here,” Peabody said. “Nobody wanted to come to Pima. Now they’re interested and we had a packed gym. If you didn’t like the atmosphere here than something is wrong with you.
“The community came out and supported us. I want to thank the community members of Tucson supporting what we did tonight.”