By COREY McMULLEN
The No. 3-ranked Aztecs opened the season with a dominant 88-50 win Nov. 2 at home over Park University in Gilbert.
Aztec sophomore forward Hallie Lawson led the charge, scoring 22 points. The Aztecs got going early, ending the first quarter up 25-6 and the first half 46-18.
Lawson made a focus on her offense this off-season.
“My offense is probably one of my struggles right now,” Lawson says. “Defensively, I’m pretty solid, but offensively I need to be a little better on helping the team with rebounding and scoring more.”
The Aztecs are coming off finishing fifth in last year’s NJCAA Division II national tournament and finishing with a 24-12 overall record. This season, the team brought back four sophomores and have 13 freshmen.
“This year’s team were really inexperienced, so we’ll take some lumps early, but we have more length and athleticism then I think I’ve ever had in my 15 years.” Coach Todd Holthaus says.
The Aztecs are going to be without last year’s leading scorer Jacqulynn “JJ” Nakai, who after last season signed with the University of Nevada.
“I had this conversation with AP (Alyssa Perez), because AP is our point guard, I don’t want her to be JJ I want her to be the best AP she can be,” Todd Holthaus said. “How do you replace it? We replace it with more balance. People knew she was going to score 25 points a game, and they still couldn’t stop her from scoring 25, where as this group we will be more effective if we have four or five people scoring 10 to 12 points.”
Aztec point guard Alyssa Perez sees the potential in this year’s team because of this crop of freshman. She described this year’s team as more “versatile.”
“This year, we have more people to contribute,” Perez said. “We’re not just going to rely on that one person.”
The Aztecs are back in action Nov. 9, where they will be participating in the three-day Eastern Arizona Shootout tournament in Thatcher.
With the first season’s game on Nov. 9, the Pima Community College Men’s Basketball team in the preseason has been ranked No. 4 in the nation.
Last season, the Aztecs finished with an impressive 29-7 record and seventh in the NJCAA Division II tournament.
The Aztecs have led the nation in scoring two of the last three years.
The Aztecs also are coming off their third straight NJCAA Region I, Division II title. The team is looking to make it four straight, partly because the Aztecs have five returning sophomore players.
Coach Brian Peabody says the lack of size on this year’s team means the team will need to work on different skills in order to win.
“We’re not as big as we’ve been in the past,” Peabody says. “We’re trying to play faster. That’s our goal since we’ve been at Pima.”
The Aztecs will be relying a lot on sophomore guard Jordan Robinson, who’s been described by Aztec team manager Nico Saavedra as “our floor general.”
“He knows all of our players and is a great leader,” Saavedra said.
Sophomore guard Rashad Smith will finish at Pima this season and committed next season to Grand Canyon University on Oct. 30.
Peabody believes that sophomore forward Kaylon Tippins has a strong chance to be Player of the Year in the conference. In the first two games, Tippins put up 36 and 32 points.
“We just got to go out there and win,” sophomore guard Cole Gerken says. “We got to want it more than other people because we’re not as big as we’ve been in past years.”
Saavedra believes the team is going to get better every month.
“The games are going to be interesting,” Saavedra says. “We have a tough schedule.
“People look see how tough your schedule is to see if you’re really a good team,” he continued. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re up to the challenge.”
The Aztecs will open the season at home at 2 p.m. Nov. 9 in the West Campus Gym