Pima Community College sports

Defensive Pima men to face Scottsdale in NJCAA Region I, Division II championship

Pima’s Traivar Jackson drives against Phoenix College’s Ruben Cazares, a former Cholla High School standout (Stephanie van Latum/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

A near-capacity West Campus Gym witnessed Tuesday night how potent the Pima men’s basketball team can be from one stretch to the next, and this time, it was the Aztecs’ defense that was the difference.

Top-seeded Pima (25-6) trailed No. 4 Phoenix College by eight points early before going on a 15-0 run over almost a five-minute span to shift the momentum in an 89-71 victory in the ACCAC Region 1, Division 2 semifinal game.

The Bears (13-18) never retook the lead, although they trailed by only one point early in the second half.

The Aztecs went on a 10-2 run to take a 58-48 lead with almost 13 minutes left and pulled away to earn a spot in the championship game Friday at 7 p.m. against No. 2 Scottsdale (24-7). The Artichokes defeated No. 3 Chandler-Gilbert 68-54 at Scottsdale in the other semifinal game Tuesday night.

“We came out kind of slow and Coach (Brian Peabody) called a timeout and got on us,” said Salpointe graduate Dillan Baker, who finished with 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, 4 of 6 from 3-point range.

“These past games our defense has been a real key and we weren’t doing that today at the start so he got on us about that. It really translated and got us going on the offensive end.”

Since the calendar turned to February, Pima has held opponents to less than 80 points in seven out of 10 games. In January, Pima allowed four opponents to score at least 89 points.

Baker had two of Pima’s six steals in Tuesday’s win over Phoenix College.

Traivar Jackson, 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, had three of the Aztecs’ eight blocked shots.

Pima forced Phoenix College into 18 turnovers, which led to many high-percentage shots in transition for the Aztecs, who shot 55.6 percent from the field in the second half and 49.2 percent overall.

“I think where we’ve gotten better over the last four or five games is on the defensive end,” said Peabody, whose teams annually are known for their high-scoring and efficient offense.

Pima ranks third nationally among Division II teams with 97.0 points per game and is fourth in assists per game (22.7).

“Early on, we scored at will, but I still think if you’re going to win the championship, you still have to be able to defend,” Peabody added. “The last four or five games, I’ve been really happy with one, our effort, and two, executing on the defensive end. We got a lot of stops and got a lot of breakaway easy layups at the other end.”

A motivating force, other than needing a win to get closer to Pima’s fourth regional title under Peabody, was the slight by ACCAC coaches of Jackson not being named Division II player of the year for the region.

That honor went to Phoenix College’s Jamar Brown, a 6-foot-5 guard who entered Tuesday’s game averaging 22.8 points and 9.8 rebounds and was shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range. He had 11 points and 10 rebounds on Tuesday night but also shot 1-of-8 from the field (0 for 2 from beyond the arc) and committed a team-high four turnovers.

Jackson, a 6-foot-7 forward, is averaging 17.7 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 59.1 percent from the field. He finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 9 of 19 from the field against the Bears.

“A lot of the guys had a chip on their shoulder,” Peabody said. “The kid, No. 5 (Brown’s uniform number), got player of the year in Division II. I thought it should’ve been Traivar.

“Traivar was an All-American, first-team all-conference last year. But whatever. I think they played with a little chip on their shoulder tonight.”

Jackson, a sophomore who is from Anchorage, Alaska, will play for and perhaps start for a four-year college next season.

He can play inside and outside, defend guards and forwards with his athleticism and is generally secure with the ball with 77 assists and 61 turnovers. He leads the team with 1.6 blocks per game and is second with 1.6 steals a game.

What’s most remarkable is Jackson averages only 22 minutes per game because of Pima’s depth. Nine players average at least 9.2 minutes per game.

Imagine if Jackson averaged 30 to 35 minutes a game what his numbers would be like. Brown averages 34.7 minutes a game.

Says a lot about his character and the way Peabody and his staff have created a culture of their players buying in to the process despite playing less amount of minutes they would perhaps play elsewhere.

“I’ve got a couple of offers right now and I’ve got a lot of interest,” Jackson said of his recruitment. “I’m just settling down. I’m focusing on this season first. After this season, I’ll figure out where I’ve gotta go next.”

Next for Pima is a rubber match with Scottsdale.

The Aztecs beat the Artichokes 98-84 on Dec. 7 at home and lost to them 90-80 at Scottsdale on Feb. 1.

Expect another high-scoring, fast-paced, transition-style game Friday with Scottsdale averaging 91.9 points and 20.2 assists per game.

Scottsdale exudes balance with its top five scorers, all starters, averaging from 12.8 to 13.8 points per game.

“We know that they’re going to push the ball,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t say they’re identical to us but we match up pretty well against them. They like to push the ball; we push the ball. It’s going to be a good game.

“It’s going to come down to the wire.”


— Freshman Jaylen Alexander, who will be one of the top players in the ACCAC next season, went 6 for 9 from the field and 7 for 10 from the free-throw line finishing with 19 points against Phoenix College.

“I feel my team was just finding me at the right spots and I was just sticking to what I’m good at; easy layups at the rim and being aggressive, and we made it work,” Alexander said. “I haven’t been shooting the best at free throws this season but I’ve been going to practice everyday to shoot free throws and staying after practice to shoot free throws. I shot decent today at 70 percent, which is better than my average.”

— Sophomore Cesar Saenz (Sabino graduate) finished with 10 points to go along with five assists and four rebounds. He suffered an open cut on his right upper check midway through the second half and returned a few minutes later sporting a large bandage. Peabody said Saenz will require stitches. Baker also took a finger close to his left eye that caused some swelling.

“I mean, you know, it’s playoffs, so it’s a battle out there,” Baker said. “No team’s going to go down easy. They’re just going to keep playing and we have to match that intensity.”

— Cholla graduate Ruben Cazares, a sophomore forward with Phoenix College, had a contingent of at least 30 family members and fans in the stands, including his former coach with the Chargers, Masai Dean Sr. Cazares finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds.

— Also seen in the stands watching the playoff game: Jim Rosborough, Pima women’s assistant coach and longtime coach at Arizona with Lute Olson; Glenn Howell, former Arizona football player, now a radio personality at KCUB 1290-AM; Steve Kanner, former Arizona player in the Fred Snowden Era who was a longtime coach at Amphi; Daron Cross, Ironwood Ridge girls basketball coach; Masai Dean Jr., Masai Sr.’s son who is being recruited by Pima; Gary Lee and Pat Nugent, Mica Mountain’s boys basketball coach and football coach, respectively; Roderick Gary, Pima’s former head coach and a former player at Sahuaro under Dick McConnell (similar to Peabody); Marcie Aguilar, Baker’s mother who was part of Mike Candrea’s first national championship team of 1991 at Arizona; and Arizona pitcher Brianna Hardy, formerly of Buena High School and Phoenix College.


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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