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Spartans looking for life after taking a big plunge

One month and one day ago, the University of Tampa men's basketball team was on the eve of winning its school-record 14th straight game to open the 1991-92 season. The Spartans were ranked No. 5 in Division II and seemingly soaring.

Then the Spartans took a bungee jump:

A scheduling mistake dropped UT from the poll and out of consideration for an NCAA postseason berth.

A three-game Sunshine State Conference losing streak through last Saturday, UT's longest in four years, and a worst-ever 3-4 start in the SSC prevented them from re-entering the rankings even though the schedule was changed and the school's post-season eligibility restored.

Joe Karl, the team's only senior, left school earlier this week, citing personal reasons.

Tampa (17-4 overall, 4-4 SSC) finally rebounded from the downward spiral with a 98-69 win over Saint Leo on Wednesday.

After three consecutive subpar games, UT point guard Mike Rouse had one of his best games of the season Wednesday, especially on defense, limiting SSC No. 3 scorer Tyrone Graves of Saint Leo to seven points, 13 below his season average. Rouse also had five steals.

"He's an excellent defensive player and leading up to the Saint Leo game, he wasn't playing on the defensive end like he can," said Tampa coach Richard Schmidt. "We talked about it and Mike responded with more leadership than he's had. Unless Mike plays well, sometimes we're in trouble."

Offensively, Rouse scored nine points and dished 11 assists Wednesday while committing just two turnovers.

"I was in a slump, just playing bad and getting frustrated," said Rouse, a 6-foot-2 junior from Palm Springs. "We've been trying to correct that and we've had some good practices. I don't think we're going to backslide anymore. We learned our lesson. If we play like (Wednesday), I don't think anybody can beat us."

Schmidt said Rouse's role as playmaker is critical.

"It was probably more critical early in the season until (freshmen guards) Reggie (Larry) and (Gregg) Bott got a feel for the game," Schmist said. "The young kids have stepped up and played pretty well, so that gives us added strength at that position."

Bott started his second consecutive game Wednesday and scored 14 points in 14 minutes. Bott is averaging 7.5 points per game and Larry is averaging 7.2 points per game. Another freshman, forward Idris Mays, had a career-high 13 points off the bench Wednesday.

The road ahead: The Spartans head into tonight's 7:30 p.m. game at Florida Tech (13-10, 4-4) with a 4-2 road record this season. Four of UT's final six regular-season games are on the road.

Tampa and FIT are tied for fourth in the SSC, one game behind Florida Southern (18-7, 5-3), which is idle tonight. UT has never finished poorer than in a tie for second place in the SSC.

"I don't know if we've turned it around yet," Schmidt said. "A lot depends on (tonight's) game. We could be on track and still lose at FIT. (SSC leader) Eckerd (15-4, 6-1) went over there and lost." UT defeated the Panthers 80-68 Jan. 25 in Tampa, but the Spartans lost at Melbourne last year, 90-84.

Tampa is 13-2 at home. UT's only remaining home games are next Saturday against Eckerd for Homecoming and Feb. 29 against Barry.

Winning women: A pair of conference victories over Rollins and Saint Leo during the last week assured the UT women's basketball team (15-8, 5-3) of its first winning season in five years.

Tampa last finished over .500 in 1986-87 when it was 18-9. With four regular-season games and the SSC post-season tournament remaining, the Spartans have an outside chance at reaching their all-time win total; UT was 20-9 in 1985-86. The Spartans have had just five winning seasons in the program's 17 previous seasons.

Tampa faces SSC leader FIT (20-2, 8-0) tonight at 5:15 p.m.

Three-point record falls: UT freshman guard Tori Lindbeck canned a pair of three-pointers in last Saturday's 61-54 win over Rollins to equal the school's career record, set by Lori Smith from 1986-88. Lindbeck added five three-pointers Wednesday night in an 84-66 triumph over Saint Leo to become UT's all-time three-point queen.

With 66 three-pointers made on 146 attempts (.452), Lindbeck is among the top five long-range shooters in Division II at 3.0 per game. The 5-7 guard from Peoria, Ill. has hit at least one trey in all 22 games, a UT record.

Two-sport star: UT freshman Martin Nebrelius made an instant impact on the soccer field last fall, totaling 11 goals and 14 assists and being named to the SSC all-conference team.

This spring, the 21-year-old from Ystad, Sweden can be found on the tennis court. As the No. 5 singles player for the UT men's tennis team, Nebrelius has compiled a 2-2 record. Nebrelius and partner Sean Hockensmith are 2-1 at No. 3 doubles.

"These are the first matches I've ever played," said Nebrelius, who played only once a month before joining the team. "I just play for fun, but when I feel confident, I work hard."

The men's team is 1-4 in match play this season while the women are off to a 4-3 start. No. 1 women's singles player Linda Cassella is 5-2 including a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Florida Southern's Mara Sullivan, who was ranked No. 34 nationally in Division II.

The women are host to the U.S. Air Force Academy Monday and both the men and women host Webber Wednesday.

Baseball streaking: The UT baseball team has won four in a row to improve to 4-2 this season. The starting rotation of Gary Graham, Matt Hudson, Sam Steed and Jason Fondren has combined for a 1.00 earned run average during the four-game winning streak.

Tampa, ranked No. 2 in Division II this week by Collegiate Baseball, is at Boca Raton today and Sunday for two games against Florida Atlantic. Graham (1-1) will pitch today and Hudson (1-0) Sunday.

After a pair of losses to Division I Florida to open the season, the Spartans broke into the win column with a 9-2 win over Warner Southern on Feb. 6, then set several records in annihilating Florida Memorial 28-4 the next day.

UT scored a school-record 14 runs in the first inning against Florida Memorial, eclipsing the previous mark of 12 set against George Washington in the seventh-inning on March 18, 1987. The 28 runs scored surpassed the previous record of 26, set against St. Thomas on April 15, 1987.

Junior Jeff Stebbins set a team record by striking out four times against Florida Memorial, but he also scored four runs.

The Spartans continued their winning ways with a pair of victories, 6-0 and 2-1, last weekend over Saint Leo to open SSC play.

Freshman outfielder Corey Jackson leads the team in hitting with a .538 batting average. Jackson has two triples, seven runs batted in and a .846 slugging percentage in three games.

Golf takes third at own meet: UT's Dolph Roder fired rounds of 71-76-72 for a 219 total to place third individually in the Tampa Invitational, held Sunday through Tuesday at the Wentworth Golf & Country Club in Tarpon Springs. Shaw Pritchett of Huntingdon (Ala.) College was medalist with a 69-72-69-210.

Tampa's "A" team placed third in the 13-team field with a 912 composite score, 21 strokes off the pace set by winner North Florida. Huntingdon finished second with 906. The UT "B" team placed 10th with 986.

President's Cup a month away: The UT crew team begins its spring season Feb. 29 at the Mardis Gras Regatta in New Orleans.

Fifteen schools, including three-time defending champion Yale, are expected to compete in the 17th Annual President's Cup Regatta on March 14 near the mouth of the Hillsborough River.

Swimming: The UT men's and women's swim teams complete their regular-season schedule this weekend at the Southern States Invitational at Davidson (N.C.) College.

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