When Tampa played Florida Southern in men's basketball on Jan.31, a few potted palm trees that looked rather thirsty and a dozen war-painted fraternity men helped to transform the Mocs' Jenkins Fieldhouse into Jenkins Jungle. The Mocs didn't count on Tarzan swinging through.
With his cat-like quickness and tenacious defense, Tampa's Michael Stiglich set the tone for a 75-70 victory _ the Spartans' first ever in seven tries at Lakeland _ and proclaimed his team ruler of the jungle.
Stiglich didn't score a single point that night, and he has averaged a mere 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game this season. In fact, he's scored less than two points per game in Sunshine State Conference play this year.
Yet in his post-game comments, Moccasin coach George Scholz praised Stiglich in the same breath as Tampa's obvious stars. "Stiglich really denies you the middle," Scholz said. "And he's what makes (Drexel) Deveaux and (Bryan) Williams so effective, by setting excellent picks for them."
Stiglich is Tampa's enforcer in the middle. The menacing presence of Stiglich's 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame, as well as his subtle offensive contributions, help to grease the wheels for Deveaux and Williams, who are averaging a combined 46.6 points per game for the Spartans.
"I'm not in it for the money," the senior center said wryly about his low point production. "My role on the team is just to get Bryan and Drexel open, to pick, to pass to the open man, to grab some rebounds. I find it a challenge to guard some of the best players in the conference, like (Eckerd's Dwayne) Perry, (Florida Tech's Dwight) Walton and (Rollins' Sam) Arterburn."
Stiglich wasn't always a defensive savage. After completing high school in Wheeling, W.Va., he came to Florida College in Temple Terrace as a key inside offensive threat.
But before the year was out, the brash Stiglich was running into roadblocks at the conservative Christian junior college. "Let's just say we didn't agree on everything, and I have very strong-rooted beliefs," Stiglich said.
"So I asked Coach (Joe) Niland to get me somewhere else," Stiglich said. Niland was instrumental in getting Stiglich a Spartan scholarship and a year later landed himself a job on the Spartans' staff as Schmidt's assistant coach.
"It's been a tremendous learning experience here and it's also allowed me to express my individualism," said Stiglich. "I think coming here has allowed me to mature more than if I stayed in Wheeling."
Mocs seek upset: Scholz and the Mocs will get another crack at Tampa and Stiglich when they invade the Bob Martinez Sports Center for a 7:30 game tonight.
The Spartans are 22-2, 8-1 in the SSC and ranked No.
5 in the latest NCAA Division II poll, released Tuesday. Florida Southern had been ranked No.
15 until suffering four straight SSC losses, but Schmidt knows that the Mocs (17-5, 4-4) need a win to stay alive for a berth in the SSC tournament.
"Florida Southern is always a big game," Schmidt said. "It'll be tough and hard-nosed. I think we've made some strides forward this past week with this team (with wins last week against Saint Leo and Barry), but I still think we gotta get better.
"Some nights we just seem to be a little smoother and better than others. I think that's because of our complicated offense. We certainly played better in the second half against Barry (last Saturday) than we have in a while. I just hope we can continue that down the stretch."
Return of Roscoe: Fifth-year senior Roscoe Brown returned to the starting lineup against Barry and hit 10 of 16 field goal attempts for 23 points. he had missed three weeks with a broken hand. "He gives us some more depth and experience and I'm glad he recovered so quickly," Schmidt said.
However, Schmidt's son, Steven, suffered a hairline fracture of his foot in practice last Thursday and likely will not return this year. "It's frustrating for me," said the junior guard, a former star at Chamberlain. "I got chicken pox my freshman year and got hurt last year. Now this." He held out a slim hope that he could be available if the Spartans advance in the NCAA tournament.
Florida Southern College at the University of Tampa
Who: Florida Southern Moccasins (17-5, 4-4) at University of Tampa Spartans (22-2, 8-1)
Where: Bob Martinez Sports Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
Coaches: Florida Southern _ George Scholz (eighth year, 182-60). Tampa _ Richard Schmidt (seventh year, 162-49).
Key players: Florida Southern _ Donolly Tyrell, F, 6-7 Sr. (20.4 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game); Michael Dean, G, 6-0 Sr. (20.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.2 assists per game); Derek Flowers, F, 6-5 Jr. (14.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg). Tampa _ Bryan Williams, F, 6-5 Jr. (25.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg); Drexel Deveaux, G, 6-3 Jr. (21.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Roscoe Brown, F, 6-5 Sr. (12.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.8 apg).
Notes: It's always a war between these two teams, but this time the Mocs must win to stay in contention for the final berth in the conference tournament. Tampa needs this game to keep its share of the SSC lead. The Tampa women's team (10-15, 6-4) plays host to FSC (10-14, 4-5) in a 5:15 p.m. game.