Pima Community College sports

Pima wins national 7th place consolation-bracket final behind Waugh’s program-record 43 points

Pima freshman Rylei Waugh achieved a program-record 43 points and converted an NJCAA tournament record 20 free throws in a game in the Aztecs’ win Saturday (NJCAA photo)

Pima media-relations director Ray Suarez contributed information for this report:

The No. 13 Pima College women’s basketball team closed out the season Saturday with a 98-87 victory over No. 10 Harcum (Pa.) College behind freshman Rylei Waugh’s program-record 43 points in the seventh-place consolation bracket final of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament in Joplin, Mo.

The No. 13 Aztecs (27-9) validated their appearance in the tournament as one of four at-large teams, the first time the NJCAA has included at-large teams as part of the 20-team tournament.

Pima rallied after trailing 52-44 at halftime after the Bears went on an 11-3 run in the final 2:25.

Harcum outscored the Aztecs 13-6 to open the third quarter but its standout post player Ciara Bailey picked up her third foul and went to the bench.

Pima took advantage with a 16-2 run as they trailed 67-66 with less than a minute left in the quarter.

Waugh, a standout from Los Angeles who is being recruited by NCAA Division I programs, was fouled with 0.3 seconds left and converted, which put the score at 70-68 entering the fourth quarter.

The Aztecs took the lead back with 8:52 left in the game as Waugh hit a 3-pointer.

Pima used a 7-0 run to make it 75-70, forcing the Bears to call timeout with 7:29 left.

Freshman Rori Hoffmeyer had a chance at a 3-point play but missed the free throw. Freshman Gabby Lopez (Bisbee) recovered the offensive board and scored to cap the run.

Bailey fouled out with 5:54 remaining as Pima clinged to a 75-74 lead.

The teams traded baskets with the Aztecs holding a slim lead.

Up 82-80, the Aztecs got two free throws from Lopez, a bucket by freshman Amelie Buffill-Gutierrez (Sabino), and two free throws from Waugh to make it 88-80 with 2:51 left.

They led by five points or more the rest of the game and even held their biggest lead at 96-86 with 38.3 seconds left.

“They got it done the same way they have all yea … we talk about Aztec Tough, it’s not just a t-shirt, it’s a real thing. It means knowing how to push through challenges, face adversity and make adjustments, but mainly don’t quit,” Pima women’s basketball coach Todd Holthaus said. “We started attacking and that helped open up the middle. The mind switched from being down to ‘we can do this.’”

Waugh set the tone as she converted on a 3-point play for the first points of the game. Tied at 20, the Aztecs went on a 9-0 run but the Bears countered with a 10-0 run to take their first lead of the game at 30-29. There were five ties and nine lead changes in the final 6:50 of the second quarter.

Waugh went from scoring no points in her first game of the regular season to producing her 43 points in the last game.

She was 9 for 17 from the field and 5 for 7 from 3-point range.

She set NJCAA Tournament records (all three Divisions) with 20 made free throws (20-23) in a game and 40 made free throws for the tournament (40-43).

Waugh fell short of the consecutive free throws record of 14 but she hit 12 in a row and finished the game making her last eight attempts. She finished with 109 points in five games (21.8 average), going 31 for 68 (.455) from the field with 25 rebounds, 19 assists and 11 steals.

“Amazing. I was told I had 41 points, and I thought ‘there’s no way I have 41 points. There’s no way that is happening in the championship game,’” Waugh said. “Every time I hit a free throw, my teammates were cheering (my point totals) ‘41, 42,.’ I did my Dougie dance.”

The Aztecs finished the tournament with a 4-1 record; playing five games in the last six days.

“Out of all the teams, we’re the only ones that had multiple 9:00 a.m. games, five games total and played three days straight,” Waugh said. “We were tired, our legs were done, and we were definitely giving up but our captain Dom (Dominique Acosta) and the sophomores who have been here before, told us ‘suck it up’ and said ‘we came here to finish on a good note,’ and that that’s what we did.”

Acosta (Nogales) finished with her second double-double of the tournament with 13 points and 12 rebounds. She went 6 for 8 from the field.

She closed out the tournament averaging 13.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and went 28 for 47 from the field (.596).

“This is one of the best post groups in my time at Pima,” Holthaus said. “I knew our length would cause problems, especially if (Bailey) got in foul trouble. We just need to outlast people sometimes and that’s what we did today.”

Buffill-Gutierrez added 10 points as she finished 5 for 6 from the field.

Lopez also contributed with 10 points and six rebounds.

Holthaus talked about Waugh’s game and the impact she has on the program.

“I get to see her everyday in practice and know what she’s capable of,” he said. “She loves to compete and that is her best strength, she sees everything as a challenge. A lot of people made a mistake of not recruiting her and we’re benefiting from that. She’s pretty special.”

The Aztecs went 31 for 40 (77.5 percent) from the free-throw line and outrebounded the Bears 47-37. The Aztecs snagged 20 offensive boards.

Pima finished the season with a 27-9 overall record.

It is the most wins for the program since the 2015-16 season. The Aztecs surpassed 20 wins in a season for the seventh straight year and eight of their last nine seasons.

They also went 18-5 in ACCAC conference play; the most wins in conference since 2010-11. Pima was 16-1 at the West Campus Aztec Gymnasium this season.

“Throughout the season, we only went up. We progressed and progressed and worked,” Waugh said. “We learned from our mistakes, and this was the best basketball Pima played. Our best defense, shooting, conditioning; it was the best versions of ourselves and we showed our growth.”

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