Phoenix College Bears’ Women’s Basketball Team Earns Region I Championship.

Phoenix College is proud to announce that the PC Women’s Basketball team has captured the Region I Division II Women’s Basketball Championship.
The 4th-seeded Bears officially secured their first Region I title since 2003 with a 54-43 victory over the 2nd-seeded Mesa Thunderbirds at Theo Heap Gymnasium on the Mesa Community College campus Saturday night. The win earns them a trip to Overland Park, Kansas, site of the 2015 NJCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championships, in ten days, to vie for the program’s first-ever national championship.
The win completes a first-ever clean sweep of the Region I Division II Basketball titles by the Bears in the same year after the Bears’ Men’s Basketball team won their share of the Region I Championship Friday night.
The old adage of “defense wins championships” was the mantra going into Saturday night’s matchup, since the game featured two teams who prided themselves on imposing their defensive will. With that said, though, there were few that didn’t consider the Bears a significant underdog going into the matchup, since Mesa was shooting for their 4th straight Region I title and a chance to defend the national title they won a year ago, and had dominated the Bears in two games during the regular season.
For the Bears, though-especially on the heels of their 55-53 upset of top-seeded Pima Community College in the Region I Semifinals on Wednesday-the newfound confidence they’d discovered in themselves over the last three weeks gave them good reason to believe that Saturday’s outcome would be different.
It took all of the first two minutes of the game for the Bears to demonstrate that, since the team that had only led once in the two regular season match-ups (a 2-0 lead back on December 5th at PC) scored seven of the game’s first nine points, and looked suddenly comfortable on the Thunderbirds’ court.
Even when Mesa battled back to take what would be their only lead of the 1st half at 8-7, the Bears refused to get flustered, forcing Mesa into several turnovers while staying composed in running their own offensive sets. The Bears limited the T-Birds to just 10 points over the final 13 minutes of the 1st half, and PC’s Julia Cordova (Westview HS) came off the bench to provide instant offense with 11 points in just six minutes of work as the Bears walked into the halftime locker room with their largest lead of the night at 26-17.
The Bears fully expected that just like in Wednesday’s other Region I Semifinal game-where the T-Birds had also suffered through a poor shooting first half against Glendale only to explode in the 2nd half for a 20-point blowout-that Mesa would come out for the 2nd half trying to gain the early momentum. The Bears were more than ready for it, limiting MCC to just four points over the first three minutes of the half. Every time the T-Birds tried to rally, the Bears’ defense would turn the tide with a turnover and/or transition bucket. With just under nine minutes left in the game, the T-Birds would mount their biggest offensive, scoring 8 unanswered points over a three-minute stretch to regain the lead at 39-37.
Instead of calling a timeout, Bears’ Women’s Head Basketball Coach Kristi Kincaid decided to let her more experienced players work through it to restore order, and that’s exactly what happened as Shelbie Drey’s (Barry Goldwater HS) putback tied the score with 5:26 left; and her low-post defense helped bother the T-Birds into four straight missed shots and a pair of turnovers. Those turnovers led to Cordova’s driving layup to give the Bears the lead for good, and transition buckets by both Blanca Perez (Alhambra HS) and Keshaun Clark (Agua Fria HS). Suddenly, trailing by four with less than a minute to go, the T-Birds were forced to foul, and that’s when the Bears’ killer instinct kicked in.
The Bears made nine out of ten free throw attempts in the final 54 seconds to put the game out of reach. The win was the Bears’ first victory at Heap Gymnasium since December of 2002, their first playoff victory over Mesa in three attempts over the last decade; and snapped the T-Birds’ string of 3 straight Region I titles. Perez led the Bears (12-20 overall, 9-13 ACCAC) in scoring with 17 points (7 of them in the final 3:33 of the game) while earning Region I Finals Most Valuable Player honors; while Cordova chipped in 15. Meanwhile, Megan Gillespie’s 12 points and 11 rebounds led the way for Mesa (20-11 overall, 14-8 ACCAC) in a losing effort.
The Bears now anxiously await word on who their first-round opponent will be as they make their inaugural trip to Cavalier Gym at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, for the NJCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship, which will commence on Tuesday, March 17th. The Bears will be making their 4th NJCAA Tournament trip in the program’s history, having also qualified in 1998, 2000 & 2003.
Seeding for the tournament will happen this Monday, so fans should monitor the Bears’ Athletic website to find out who and when the Bears play. Fans that can’t make the trip to Kansas to cheer the Bears on in person can catch the action of every tournament game the Bears are involved in LIVE on GoBears SportsNet, the Bears’ internet video and audio streaming broadcast carrier-and NJCAA TV.
Phoenix College is one of the 10 regionally accredited Maricopa Community Colleges.