For the first time since the University of Tampa joined the Sunshine State Conference nine years ago, the women's basketball team has a better conference record than the men.
The UT women have won three in a row, including incredible come-from behind victories recently over Rollins (down by 18 before halftime) and Florida Tech (trailing by 19 with 10 minutes remaining) to move to 6-3 in the SSC, 16-8 overall. Already assured of their first winning season in five years, the women could win 20 games for only the second time in school history.
"If we win all three of our final games, we'll finish second (in the SSC)," said third-year women's coach Tom Mosca, who, at 39-39 since taking the job at Tampa, is looking to go over the .500 mark for the first time. "Then we could get to 20 in the (SSC) tournament."
Mosca has effected quite a turnaround. Three years ago the women finished 5-22 overall, 2-10 in the SSC. They have gone 7-5 in the SSC during each of Mosca's first two years and finished third in the conference, but their overall records were 11-17 and 12-14.
"I thought we could win 17 for the year," Mosca said. "I would have been disappointed if we didn't. Now that looks like a real thing. It's just a great plus to do it in only three years."
The women already would have exceeded Mosca's expectations if they could win at home more often. They are 7-7 at home and 9-1 on the road. But the future is bright. Four of UT's top six scorers are freshmen. Combined, Tori Lindbeck, Crystal Ashley, Angela Meiser and Jeni Robinson are averaging 37.1 points per game.
Meantime, the men's team is 4-5 in the SSC and has lost two straight and five of six. The Spartans, who have never lost more than five SSC games and never finished worse than a tie for second in the SSC, are alone in fifth place with three conference games remaining.
At 17-6 overall, the men are in some danger of falling short of 20 wins for the first time since the basketball program was reinstated in 1983 after a 13-year hiatus.
Four of the men's top six scorers are either freshmen or sophomores _ the team has no seniors _ yet they have not matured against the competition as quickly as UT's women.
"I've said all along that we were young and not that good," said UT men's coach Richard Schmidt. "But we're certainly better than we've been playing recently.
"Some guys are struggling mentally and some are struggling physically. You put those two together and _ well, it's been real tough for us. The kids want to do well, but we have not been able to perform like we're capable of."
Schmidt said UT's decline over the last month is rooted in several factors.
"This is the third year in a row that (6-foot-8 center) Matt (Streff) has faded on us," he said. "His legs just can't take it over a whole season. It's hurting us because without him, we don't have the defense in the middle."
A lack of conditioning also has caught up with the Spartans.
"It really shows with (sophomore swingman) Rod Brooks," Schmidt said. "He has been starting off every game real well, but as games get into the middle of the second half, he starts fading on me and there we go."
Discipline problems contribute to the situation. Sophomore guard DeCarlo Deveaux, the team's leading scorer with 17.9 points per game, missed the team bus to Florida Atlantic on Monday and was benched for three-quarters of Tuesday's 87-81 loss to the Owls. He scored a season-low nine points.
"Our guys have to make a decision to overcome this," Schmidt said. "I don't know if we can."
Schmidt plans to unveil a new lineup in today's 1 p.m. homecoming game against Eckerd. "I don't know what that lineup will be yet," he said, "but there will be some changes that will scare me."
Swimming: Two UT swimmers qualified for the NCAA national meet at last weekend's Southern States Invitational at Davidson (N.C.) College. Ann Marie Nanai qualified in the 1,50-yard freestyle with a time of 17:37.13, which broke the meet record by 37 seconds, but she still finished second by 5.7 seconds. Scott Jones qualified in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:55.30, .11 behind the event winner.
Baseball: The Spartans (6-2, 2-0 SSC), ranked No. 2 in Division II this week by Collegiate Baseball, is at Division I Clemson, a 1991 College World Series team, for a three-game weekend series. UT returns home Monday and plays Division I Michigan at 3 p.m.
Softball: The Spartans (27-19, 14-10 last year) play a season-opening doubleheader Tuesday at South Florida beginning at 6 p.m. The softball team plays its home opener next Saturday against Alma (Mich.) College at 1 p.m.