The Pima Community College men's basketball team (27-4) held off a late rally from South Mountain Community College (19-12) to advance to the NJCAA Region I, Division II finals for the second straight year.
The No. 2 seeded Aztecs ousted the No. 3 Cougars 104-95 in the semifinal round. The Aztecs play at No. 1 seed Phoenix College on Friday.
The Aztecs took a 94-77 lead with 4:24 left in the game but the Cougars went on a 10-0 to cut it to single digits at 96-87. South Mountain cut Pima's lead to nine points on two more occasions but could not get any closer.
The Aztecs trailed the first 12 minutes of the game. Down 22-19, the Aztecs went on a 6-0 run to take the lead at 25-22. They would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. The teams went back and forth scoring but the Aztecs held a 43-36 advantage at halftime.
Sophomore Justin Bessard, who was scoreless in the first half, rallied off the first 16 points for the Aztecs in the second half. Up 51-44 with almost three minutes gone by, the Aztecs went on an 18-7 run in the next six minutes to take a 69-51 lead at the 11:54 mark.
Bessard scored all his points in the first nine minutes of the second half. He fouled out around the 11:30 mark but left his stamp on the game as he finished with 18 points on 8 for 9 shooting and nine rebounds.
Sophomore Jeremiah Bailey came off the bench and proved to be a difference maker as he scored all 20 of his points in the second half. He went 6 for 9 from the field and 8 for 9 from the free throw line.
Sophomore Keven Biggs (Cienega HS) scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half. He also had seven rebounds and two blocks. Alize Travis had a double-double of 17 points and 11 assists while freshman Robert Wilson (Salpointe Catholic HS) contributed with 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
The Aztecs went 31 for 34 from the free throw line as the bench scored 36 points.
The Aztecs look for their second straight Region I, Division II title on Friday when they play at Phoenix College. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.
SMCC 36 59 95
PCC 43 61 104