The No. 20 Pima men’s basketball team was in a tight battle with the Mesa Thunderbirds for nearly the entirety of the game in the 78-65 win at the Pima West Aztec Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon.
The win gave coach Brian Peabody his 198th career victory as Pima’s head coach.
The Aztecs (20-5, 12-5 in ACCAC) found themselves clinging to a 60-56 lead with just 4 minutes to play in the game until guard Dillan Baker (Salpointe grad) nailed in a 3-point shot to make it 63-56 with 3:37 to play.
Mesa (8-16, 4-13 in ACCAC) made its next basket, but Pima scored six more unanswered points, capped off by a Baker shot. Pima took its first double-digit lead of the game at 69-58.
Guard Jaylen Alexander made three of his last four free throws and Cesar Saenz (Sabino) hit his last two to maintain the victory in the last minutes.
Mesa’s scrappy style of play came as no surprise to head coach Brian Peabody, as the game was similar to the last time these teams met Jan. 7 in Mesa.
“We played them up there; it was a tight game, we won by seven,” Peabody said. “They’ve got a good team, they play hard and they’re well coached.”
Pima struggled to get anything going from the 3-point line, as it went 2-for-17 for the entirety of the game.
Baker’s shot to put the Aztecs ahead was Pima’s first 3-point field goal since the first half.
The game featured 16 lead changes and four ties. Neither team could get a dominant lead until Pima’s late-game run.
Despite the lack of success from 3-point range, the Aztecs found plenty of opportunities to score from around the field and at the free-throw line.
Pima made 29 of 59 field goals and went 17-for-25 on its foul shots compared to Mesa’s 6-for-11 night at the line.
“That’s four games in a row that we’ve shot less than 15 percent from the three-point line,” Peabody said. “If that’s gonna be the way it’s gonna be, then were just gonna have to make adjustments and grind things out. We’re not used to doing that, but a win is a win and I’ve gotta make some adjustments as a coach.”
Sophomore Traivar Jackson was a force and a huge reason for Pima’s success.
Jackson scored a team-high 25 points in the win over Mesa and is now a point away from reaching 1,000 points in his two-year Pima career.
The last player to reach the milestone was All-American Abram Carrasco, a Cholla High School graduate, in 2018-19.
Jackson first knew he was approaching the landmark achievement when a sports site in Anchorage, Alaska, posted about it. He hails from Anchorage.
“It’s probably the first time in may career that I’ll hit that achievement,” Jackson said. “It’s not super big but it’s nice to have.”
Jackson added eight rebounds and two blocks.
Saenz finished with 17 points with five assists, four steals and four rebounds.
Alexander scored 15 points with six rebounds, one block and a steal.
Baker scored 11 points with seven rebounds, two assists and one steal,
Pima will play the next two games on the road with the first at Arizona Western College in Yuma on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.