Pima Community College sports

Region champion Pima No. 9 seed in NJCAA Division II men’s tournament

Pima is 28-4 coming off a road victory over nemesis Chandler-Gilbert for the ACCAC Region I Division II championship and the Aztecs have a schedule full of games against Division I opponents within its own conference.

Despite Pima’s strength of schedule, overall record and region title, the Aztecs are a No. 9 seed in the NJCAA Division II tournament facing an at-large team — No. 8 Des Moines (Iowa) Area (28-4) — in the opening round next Tuesday at 11 a.m., Tucson time, at Danville, Ill.

If the Aztecs get past Des Moines Area, they will potentially face in the next round overall No. 1 seed Davidson-Davie (NC), which is 32-1.

“Happy that we’re in, disappointed in the seeding,” Pima coach Brian Peabody said. “I thought our body of work and history that we’ve had going to the national tournament (four appearances over the last eight years) — we’ve always played well there — going there three years in a row — 3-1, 3-1, 2-2 (in those appearances) and a national runnerup (in 2018) — that they would have given us a higher seed.

“We were really hot down the stretch (winning 14 of their last 15 games). We beat the No. 1 (region) team (Chandler-Gilbert). We lead the country in scoring (103 points a game). I don’t think they took all of that into consideration. We should’ve been a higher seed.”

Pima will proceed with preparing for Des Moines Area, which lost in its region championship game but managed to land one of the four at-large bids for the tournament.

This is the first year the NJCAA has added at-large bids for its national tournament, expanding the field from 16 teams to 20.

“I’m going to take it and the same thing with my guys, we’ll play whoever is in front of us,” Peabody added. “If it’s the No. 1 team or the No. 20 team, we don’t care. We’re going to play. We have a lot of confidence right now. Our guys deserved to go.

“I love coaching these guys. Very similar to the team that got beat in the national championship game, the same record, same mentality, same group of kids with their work ethic. They’re ready to go.”

The 2017-18 team finished 31-5 and included the likes of Keven Biggs (Cienega grad who went on to Washburn), Abram Carrasco (Cholla alum who played at Westmont College), Isaiah Murphy (another Cienega grad who moved on to Eastern New Mexico before excelling professionally at Japan) and Alize Travis (who went on to play at Northern Illinois).

The Aztecs averaged 102.3 points and 23.9 assists a game that season.

Peabody’s team this season leads the nation in scoring and is tied at the top nationally in assists with Macomb (Mich.), averaging 23 per game.

Salpointe alum Dillan Baker, who is headed to NAU next season to complete his last two years of college eligibility, leads the Aztecs with 18 points per game.

“I think we’re more than capable getting through the first round and getting through the second round,” said Baker, a sophomore forward who is shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range. “We just need to go out there, have a gameplan and execute. If we do that, we can go far.

“We are hungry to win. … We’re taking it as a little disrespect, some of us (about the seeding). We also need to get our minds right and just execute.”

Jaylen Alexander, another highly productive sophomore forward, is coming off impressive performances against Glendale and Chandler-Gilbert to claim the NJCAA Region I Division II tournament MVP honor.

Alexander, who came to Tucson sight unseen in person by Peabody and his staff from Nampa, Idaho, mentioned that if Pima plays to its capability in the national tournament “the rest will take care of itself.”

“It should be fun playing on a big stage,” said Alexander, who is averaging 16 points a game and shooting a phenomenal 63 percent from the field as a 6-foot-7 player. “If we do what we do, we have a chance to win anything.

“We’ve got to keep trusting each other and keep buying into what we do and what we’ve been doing for the last eight months.”


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 in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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