When Lake Michigan’s Aymia Flowers looked like she double-dribbled but still managed to get off a 3-point attempt at the buzzer, time stood still for Pima’s women’s team.
Thankfully for Todd Holthaus’s team, the Basketball Gods did not allow the shot to go in and Pima survived with an 81-79 victory to advance to the quarterfinals o the NJCAA Division II tournament in Harrison, Ark. Sixth-seeded Pima (22-11) will next face Kansas City (Kan.) JC at 4 p.m., Tucson time, on Wednesday.
No. 3 Kansas City (29-4) defeated No. 14 Chesapeake (Md.) 82-56 before Pima beat Lake Michigan.
“They’re tough, athletic, physical … we have our work cut out for us,” Holthaus said of Kansas City in a post game interview shown on NJCAA TV. “We have a couple of teams in our conference that are the same way (physical man-to-man defense), so we’ll be ready.”
J.J. Nakai, who had an uncharacteristic eight turnovers with only two assists, led Pima with 25 points and eight rebounds against Lake Michigan. Shauna Bribiescas had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. RyLeigh Long, Haile Gleason and Hallie Lawson each had 10 points for the Aztecs, who have won 16 of their last 19 games.
Pima pulled out the win over Lake Michigan despite being down by its biggest margin in the game — 63-54 with 8:53 left in the game.
Eight unanswered points, including two close shots by Bribiescas, a 5-foot-11 post player, and a jumper by Nakai cut the lead to 63-62 with 6:34 remaining.
“We were moving the ball, pounding, making free throws and we were withstanding their pressure,” Bribiescas said in an interview with Pima media relations director Ray Suarez.
After Flowers made a 3-pointer for Lake Michigan with 4:55 left to increase the lead to 67-62, Pima went into overdrive with a 15-2 run to take a 77-70 lead with 1:09 left. Bribiescas had eight points, converting on two 3-point plays, and Long and Gleason each had 3-pointers in that stretch.
Bribiescas had 11 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter.
“I just really tried to pound inside because … I had an advantage because of my speed. I can come out quick get the ball and just be versatile and pass, but I just really tried to pound them inside,” Bribiescas said.
Holthaus refers to Bribiescas as “Mama Bear” for helping to keep his players together. She followed through with that.
Pima All-American guard J.J. Nakai struggled with her eight turnovers with only two assists but her 25 points and eight rebounds helped the Aztecs (22-11) live for another day. pic.twitter.com/9zbskR3X4M
After Gleason remained a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line this season to put Pima up 81-76 with 23 seconds left, Samantha Jenkins of Lake Michigan made a 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining.
Lake Michigan called a timeout. Coming out of that, Pima committed its 23rd turnover over the game when Nakai could not handle the inbound pass and the ball landed out of bounds. That set up the sequence of Flowers missing the 3-pointer at the very end.
“In the timeout (before Flowers’s shot), I told them to stay compose and don’t turn the ball over,” Holthaus said. “We did one of the two. We stayed composed but we turned it over, so we had to gut it out. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination but it was good for the kids to get a win.”
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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.