You never mess with a “Mama Bear.” She protects her own. She strengthens the bond.
Shauna Bribiescas, Pima’s sophomore forward who is often in the “shadow” of high-scoring, playmaking teammate J.J. Nakai, according to coach Todd Holthaus, keeps the Aztecs together.
“Shauna is kind of like our glue, kind of like a Mama Bear,” Holthaus said. “When I need something that has to be taken care of, I go to Shauna. She’s been in J.J.’s shadow in some respect. Shauna is a hell of a player, but she does it a different way. It’s not flashy. It’s grind it out inside. Step outside to hit a three.
“She usually battles the other team’s best player or biggest player. I’m really happy for Shauna because when she decided to come to Pima, she said, ‘Coach, we’re going to go to nationals.’ I told her, ‘I hope you make good on your word.’ She did.”
Pima (21-11) is the No. 6 seed heading into Tuesday morning’s first round game of the NJCAA Division II tournament at Harrison, Ark. The Aztecs will face No. 11 Lake Michigan (26-5) at 9 a.m., Tucson time. You can watch the live stream of the game for a $4.99 at this link.
The Aztec men (26-6) are the No. 3 seed in the NJCAA Division II tournament at Danville, Ill., with a tipoff also at 9 a.m., against Cecil (Md.) Community College. That game can watched via live stream at this link, also for $4.99.
Bribiescas tops the Aztecs by shooting 50 percent from the field and grabbing 8.5 rebounds a game. She also averages 16 points a game. The 5-foot-11 forward from Mesa Dobson High School also averages a respectable 2.7 assists per game as an inside-outside threat.
She tied a career-high with six steals in the 80-58 win over Mesa in the Region I, Division II title game.
“I try to pound it inside and then I can step outside and be more versatile on the court,” said Bribiescas, who is shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range. “I’ve developed tremendously (over the last two years). I just really focus on my defense. My offense will come but my defense, I have to play against bigger girls a lot because I am a 5 (post player), so I have to be the tough one on the court and do my best.”
Holthaus named District A national coach of the year
Holthaus is in his 12th season as Pima’s coach, leading the Aztecs to their fifth regional title this year. He is also now a five-time national District A Coach of the Year, an honor he received tonight. His career record at Pima is 262-128.
— PimaAthletics (@PimaAthletics) March 19, 2019
About an hour before this honor was announced, the men’s coach, Brian Peabody, was awarded the District I Division II National Coach of the Year.
Before coming to Pima, Holthaus was an assistant coach at Arizona (2005-2007) and the varsity girls head coach at Flowing Wells High School (1998-2005; 160-64 record). He played for Waldorf College (1989-1991) and Grand Canyon (1991-93).
Holthaus’ team has won 15 of its last 18 games heading into the national tournament.
Nakai one of nation’s top scorers
Nakai’s illustrious Pima career is also winding down. She is the nation’s fourth-leading scorer in NJCAA Division II averaging 24.3 points a game. She is the school’s career leader with 1,307 points.
Between Nakai, freshman forward Hallie Lawson (10 points and 5.7 rebound a game) and Bribiescas, Pima is hard to defend with its inside-outside execution. Lawson and Bribiescas can play inside and out.
“We just really try to work together,” Bribiescas said. “Hallie has a jumper. Hallie and I are versatile and J.J., she has great passes and she is able to hit us. She looks for us and we get shots, too.”
Holthaus has the experienced leadership of Bribiescas and Nakai, along with fellow sophomores Brianna Pitre and RyLeigh Long, but he mentioned after the win over Mesa that he also has freshmen he can count on.
PCC's AP: #PimaBasketball begins run in #NJCAABasketball Div. II women's tournament on Tue. Fr. PG & @maranagirlsbbal's grad #AlyssaPerez AKA @Ap15Alyssa talks about her experience apprenticing under @PimaAthletics All-American point guard @JacqulynnNakai. #PimaAztecs pic.twitter.com/Taj84jOcwK
— David Kelly (@DavidKellyTNN) March 18, 2019
Freshmen such like Lawson, sharpshooting guard Haile Gleason and tough-as-nails player Alyssa Perez are proving to be the backbone of the team. They combined for 25 points and eight rebounds in the regional final against Mesa.
“They did not play like freshmen,” Holthaus said. “Everybody thinks it’s going to be J.J. For them to come out like that, it’s just a big confidence booster.
Family time at Olive Garden
It might be cliché, but the Aztecs are like family, even with a Mama Bear.
On the night before facing Mesa last week for the regional championship, the Aztecs did not go their separate ways to concentrate on the game.
Instead, every single one of them met at Olive Garden for dinner without Holthaus organizing the gathering.
“You know, in today’s tech world, people on their phones and stuff like that, for them to go out and have dinner together, that’s awesome,” Holthaus said. “That’s a testament to the group. They understand that they need each other.”
Nakai also commented about their bond.
“I love this team … we’re like a family,” Nakai said. “We all trust each other. We just know how to work together.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.