Any reports claiming the Mesa Community College women’s basketball team is out of the race for the ACCAC Division II lead can be tossed aside.
The struggling Thunderbirds (12-7, 7-4) kept their hopes alive for the top seed in the NJCAA Region I Div. II playoff by surprising No.8 Pima, 78-74, at Mesa Wednesday night to pull to within two games of Pima (14-5, 9-2) at the halfway point of the season.
The win should wipe away some of the sting of a recent stretch in which the once ranked Thunderbirds dropped three of their last four conference games and two in succession. The two teams will meet again Feb. 26 in Tucson, the final night of the regular season.
Balanced Mesa placed four players in double figures scoring, led by Christina Buescher’s 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field including a perfect 4 of 4 from 3-point distance.
Nicole Crisp and Briana Benjamin each added 13 points and Amber Bond scored 10. Two others, Katie Tomlinson and Callina Hurley, contributed 12 and 10 rebounds respectively, a further indication of Mesa’s all-around team effort. Buescher also paced Mesa with seven assists and Prayer Branham added six.
For the game, Mesa hit a sizzling 55 percent from the field (31 of 56) to Pima’s 41 percent (28 of 68) and held a sizable 42-24 rebounding advantage.
Mesa limited PIma standout Tia Morrison to only 13 points and four rebounds in only 20 minutes of foul-plagued action, well below her season’s averages of 19.9 and 11.9. Morrison leads the ACCAC in rebounding.
Ne Ne Villalobos paced Pima with 18 points and Abyee Maricigan added 10.
Home losses last week to Div.I powers Arizona Western and Yavapai along with a road loss at South Mountain staggered the Thunderbirds. A first-place finish would be quite an uphill climb considering they would have likely to defeat Western and Yavapai on the road, not to mention the season finale at Pima.
Despite the loss, Pima has been considerably more impressive through the first half of the schedule, protecting its home floor against Western (85-53) and recently winning at Yavapai (59-49). PIma’s only previous conference loss came at defending NJCAA Div. I national champion Central Arizona by a narrow 76-73 score on Dec. 12.
Mesa also played Central well at Mesa in a 73-67 loss on Nov. 21, back when the Thunderbirds were playing well. The Thunderbirds have to be hoping last night’s impressive win serves as a springboard to a strong second half.