Todd Holthaus’ Pima team is not playing in the championship game on the last day of the season, but the Aztecs will play to the very end of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament in the consolation bracket.
That suits Holthaus just fine considering his team will play only 10 games this season because of COVID-19 protocol.
Holthaus sent me this text message, exemplifying his pride for how his team has persevered until the very end after waiting more than four months for its season to start March 16.
“We made it to Saturday of the National Tournament!! Who would have thought that?? These kids are AMAZING. SO happy for them all. Makes the roller coaster ride worth it for them!!”
Pima (5-4) will end its season either the seventh or eighth best team in the country when it plays Arkansas State University Mid-South at 9 a.m. Tucson time on Saturday.
The Aztecs, seeded No. 9, defeated No.13 Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College 78-64 after trailing by 10 points early on Friday to advance to the seventh-place game.
The Raiders went on an 11-0 run to put the Aztecs down 29-19 with 5:23 left in the first half, but the Aztecs countered with reserves Jaslyn Booker (Buena grad), Izzy Enriquez, Mackenzie Kinsel, Angel Addleman (Palo Verde) and Melissa Simmons all scoring for Pima during a 12-1 run to end the half.
Sophomore Sierra Mich’l (bound for NAU) played just three minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, but found rhythm in the third quarter with three quick baskets inside the paint. She gave the Aztecs their first double-digit lead with a 3-point play to make it 46-36 with 5:28 left in the third quarter. She scored 11 points in the third quarter.
“When Sierra was on the bench, we seemed to struggle, but the reserves who brought us back from 10 down in the second quarter, deserve a lot of credit,” Holthaus was quoted as saying by Pima media relations. “The only adjustment we made was telling Sierra to stay out of foul trouble.”
The Aztecs led 60-48 after the third quarter and continued to pour it on in the fourth as they held Grand Rapids scoreless for the first six minutes. Pima went on a 14-0 run to take a 74-48 lead.
Sophomore Fama Thiam (a New Mexico State signee) scored 11 of her game-high 19 points in the first quarter. She finished with a double-double after adding 10 rebounds to go along with three assists and two steals.
Mich’l fell short of a double-double with 15 points (shooting 6 for 9 from the field) with nine rebounds and two blocks.
Sophomore Nikya Orange (Tanque Verde) finished with eight points and eight rebounds and Booker had four points and 11 rebounds.
“Only eight teams in the country are playing on the last day of the season and Pima is one of them,” Holthaus said.
Information from Pima contributed to this report.
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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.