By JASON WEIR
The Pima Community College women’s basketball team won a nail-biter March 19 to claim third place in the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
Playing in Overland Park, Kan., PCC beat No. 1 seed Monroe (N.Y.) Community College 74-73, handing the Tribunes their second loss of the season.
PCC finished the year 28-8.
Pima and Monroe had hoped to be playing for the national title. Both teams lost the night before, setting up the third-place game.
Monroe took its first lead, 73-72, with 26.7 seconds left in the game. Pima inbounded the ball to freshman Sydni Stallworth, who was fouled. She hit two free throws to put the Aztecs ahead.
Pima’s swarming defense forced Monroe to take a tough shot that missed. Sophomore Shalise Fernander tipped the ball away as time expired.
Sophomore Taylor Blue was Pima’s leading scorer, putting up 22 points for the second night in a row. Sophomore Gabby Banales and Fernander each had 17 points.
Banales had a good night from behind the three-point line, making five of her nine attempts.
“I’ve always been comfortable in my shot,” Banales told PCC sports information writer Raymond Suarez. “Everyone was giving me the ball when I was open and I was feeling it.”
Stallworth and Blue were named to the All-Tournament team.
The Aztecs faced No. 2 seed Illinois Central College on March 18 in the semi-final game. The Cougars beat the Aztecs 77-74.
Pima fell behind by double digits early in the fourth quarter. The Aztecs fought back to get within one point, 64-63, but the Cougars answered with back-to-back baskets and held on to win.
PCC outrebounded Illinois 53-42. Blue led the Aztecs with 22 points and 14 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds. Stallworth also had a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Pima advanced to the Final Four with a 90-82 win over Cape Fear (N.C.) Community College on March 16. The Aztecs win snapped the Sea Devils’ 26-game winning streak.
PCC trailed much of the first half and Cape Fear led 50-45 when the Aztecs went on a 10-0 run. The teams played close the rest of the way.
The game was tied 62-62 when sophomore Hayley Pryor hit a jump shot to give Pima a lead. The Aztecs made six-of-eight free throws in the final minute to hold off the Sea Devils.
PCC had five scorers in double figures. Stallworth had a game-high 21 points, 17 from the free-throw line. Banales had 19 points and went five-for-seven from three-point range. Both Fernander and Blue had a double-double.
Pima opened the NJCAA tournament March 15 against Hagerstown (Maryland) Community College with a 96-55 win.
The Hawks fell behind 21-8 early and were down 47-31 at halftime. The Aztecs continued to expand their lead the entire game as PCC’s depth and speed wore Hagerstown down.
Freshman Denesia Smith led the scoring with 19 points. Pima’s bench scored 31 points, led by freshman Erin Peterson. She went 4-for-5 in shooting and had nine points and five rebounds.