By CALEB FOSTER
The Pima Community college men’s basketball team is hoping this is the year they return to winning ways. They opened the season with two close wins against non-conference teams.
The Aztecs had a 13-17 season record last year, and have gone 13 years without a winning record. The team has made one NJCAA championship, finishing seventh in 2010.
It also endured a string of head coaches before Brian Peabody returned last year to take the helm.
Peabody was originally hired as head coach 10 years ago, but was let go. At the high school level, he coached basketball at Salpointe Catholic and Ironwood Ridge. He has 443 wins and six state final appearances in his 25-year coaching career, the most of any Tucson coach.
He said last year that he can build a winning team, though he warned it could take a few seasons.
“I would love to play as up-tempo as we possibly can,” he said. “I need to be realistic, though.”
The Aztecs must replace Shakir Smith, who averaged 29.1 points per game last season. He is now playing at Division II Adams State in Alamosa, Colo.
Pima will expect returning sophomores to fill a leadership role, including center Ben Greshman forward Matt O’Boyle and guard/forward Bryan Cervantes.
Last season Gershman averaged 19 points per game and registered 20 double-doubles.
This season, the Aztecs jumped out to an early 2-0 record in pre-conference play. They won both games by a combined three points, and trailed at halftime each time.
Pima showed resilience and determination on Nov. 3 with an 82-81 win against Planet Athlete.
The Aztecs faced deficits of up to 14 points and were behind 37-44 at halftime. They got back on track with an 8-0 run in the second half.
After a few lead changes, Pima took the lead for good with a basket by freshman DeVaunte Paschal. Sophomore Andres Marquez hit two critical free throws to make it 82-78 with 29.3 seconds left. Planet Athlete hit a three-pointer with 21 seconds left.
Gershman and Cervantes both started this season with a double-double. Gershman scored 20 points and secured 11 rebounds, while Cervantes finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
O’Boyle scored a team-high 22 points on 7-for-17 shooting. Paschal finished with 13 points and Marquez contributed with 11 points.
On Nov. 8, the Aztecs again used a last-second put back to defeat West Wind Prep Academy 91-89.
Cervantes grabbed an offensive rebound off a Gershman miss, and scored the put-back. Cervantes also tipped the following inbounds play as the clock expired.
The Aztecs trailed for much of the first half and were down 42-37 at halftime.
Gershman was 1-for-8 with six points in the first half but scored 10 points in the first six minutes of the second half. He finished the game with 25 points.
O’Boyle scored 25 points, going 8-for-15 from the field and 6-for-10 from three-point range. Freshman Dorian Paige contributed 11 points, five assists and four rebounds off the bench.
Pima was scheduled to play Arizona Christian University at the West Campus on Nov. 12. The game took place after Aztec Press went to the printer.
The Aztecs open conference play Nov. 19 at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Chandler. Their first home conference game will be Nov. 22 against Phoenix College.
Nov. 15: Phase 1 Academy,West Campus gym, 2 p.m.
Nov. 19: @ Chandler-Gilbert CC, Chandler, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 22: Phoenix College, West Campus gym, 5 p.m.
Nov. 25: @ Tohono O’Odham CC, Sells, 7:30 p.m.