The No. 13 Pima College women’s team gutted out a crucial 70-68 win over the Central Arizona on Saturday to secure the No. 1 seed in the NJCAA Region I, Division II Tournament.
Pima has been on a roll in its last 14 games, going 12-2 in that stretch and has beaten its opponents by an average score of 76-61.
The Aztecs clinched the No. 1 seed after its narrow victory and Scottsdale beating Mesa 67-60. Although Mesa has beaten Pima twice, the Aztecs have a 16-5 record in the ACCAC standings and Mesa is at 14-7 with one game remaining.
“The kids were the ones that did it,” Pima head coach Todd Holthaus said. “We can draw a lot of things up in the huddle and we can do certain things, but if it doesn’t go the way we drew it up, someone’s gotta adjust. They just did a really good job of figuring it out and making it happen. It wasn’t pretty but we got the job done.”
When Pima was down late against Central Arizona, its best shots came down to the free-throw line. Down 58-55, Pima went on a 10-2 run with six of those points coming at the stripe.
“We practice those everyday and our goal is always 75 percent as a team,” Holthaus said. “We were 73 today, but we made the ones that needed to be made and gives us a cushion enough to survive in the end.”
Sophomore Angel Addleman (Palo Verde grad) hit a pair of free throws to give Pima a 65-60 lead with 3:56 left.
Pima was up 67-65 when sophomore Matehya Aberle was sent to the line. She knocked down both, making it 69-65.
The Vaqueros quckly transitioned down court and hit a 3-point shot to shorten the Pima lead to 69-68 with 1:37 remaining in the game.
“We thought, ’We just gotta get it done on defense,’” Aberle said of the team’s mentality for the last minute. “We gotta get these stops and transition it into our offense.”
Sophomore Aiona Johnson nailed 1-of-2 free throws to give Pima the 70-68 with 8.6 seconds to spare.
Central Arizona looked to make another successful rapid transition up the court, but lost the ball and the Aztecs dribbled the remaining time out.
Pima attempted 23 free-throws and made 15 of them in the second half. Overall Pima was 22-for-30 on the night at the line.
Pima’s foul trouble was in more control as Central Arizona attempted 19 shots and made 12 at the free-throw line.
Pima struggled to find its rhythm from the field in the first quarter and found itself in a 20-12 deficit going into the second.
The Aztecs then went on a 20-5 scoring run to put themselves in the lead with a score of 32-25. Central Arizona then answered back with a 10-6 run of its own to go into the locker room down 38-36.
Central Arizona got off to a quick start in the third quarter, going on a 12-3 run to go up 48-41 with just over four minutes to play in the quarter.
The Aztecs then closed that gap with a 10-3 run, tying the game up at 51 by the end of the third quarter.
The Pima Aztecs recognized 11 sophomores on the team before the start of the game leading into their last regular-season home game.
Aberle, Torrance Begay, Camilla Norton, Priscila Varela, Addleman, Luisa Chavez (Rio Rico), Cienna Crawford (Rincon/University), Johnson, Jaden Leslie and Calista Mclean were all honored.
Four players scored into double digits in Saturday’s win. Begay, Addleman and Johnson each had 14 points.
Addleman came away with a double-double with 11 rebounds and also five assists to go with her scoring.
Aberle was just one rebound shy of achieving her own double-double with 12 points, nine rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Most of the sophomores on the team played in last year’s regionals and have plenty of experience in playing post-season basketball.
“Definitely experience,” Johnson said of an advantage for the team. “A lot of us played last year. A bunch of us started played in the last region championship, so they know the pressure.”
The Aztecs next game will be played on Tuesday at Eastern Arizona College at 7:30 p.m.