Lady Spartans Power Through SSC Opponents

The University of Tampa women’s basketball team came through big on both their own and opposing courts.

The Spartans held on and defeated Sunshine State Conference rival Eckerd College Tritons (14-9, 7-5 SSC) 64-59 on Feb. 11 at the Bob Martinez Sports Center.

The drama began to unfold at the end of the first half when junior forward Caitlin Mytrik’s buzzer-beater from near half court turned a one-point UT deficit into a two-point lead.
‘Anytime you make a shot like that, it ignites the crowd, it ignites the players coming into the locker room,’ coach Tom Jessee said after the game. ‘So you ride that momentum coming right back out.’

Tampa forged ahead by 17 points with less than nine minutes left. But an unlikely 19-2 Eckerd run tied the game at 56 with less than three minutes remaining. The Tritons then took the lead with 1:28 to go.

Down to 39.2 seconds, sophomore guard Gianna Messina and her team proved they would not be denied on their home court.

Messina drove through the lane and sank a layup to give the Spartans a 60-59 advantage which they would not relinquish. Despite a late Mytrik injury, UT held on thanks to clutch free throws from Messina and Hailee Sullivan.

‘Our offense works around everybody equally,’ Messina said. ‘So if it just happens that you get the open shots that night, you just have to step up and make them. Tonight I just felt like I had to step up and that’s what I did.’

Messina had a career evening, scoring 24 points along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Spartans took their four-game winning streak on the road to Barry University for a Saturday contest.

‘If you can’t get up for a home or away game, then you shouldn’t even be on a team in this conference,’ Messina said before Saturday’s game.’ ‘You treat every game like it’s the biggest game of the year, which it is.’

Tampa (18-5, 8-4 SSC) did indeed get up, as they edged out a 60-59 overtime victory to improve to 2-0 on the season against the Buccaneers (14-9, 5-7 SSC).

Down by 18 early in the second half, the Spartans battled back to within three with five seconds left.’

Then Messina made magic happen again, knocking in an improbable three pointer as time expired to tie the game at 53 and send it to overtime.’

UT held on through the extra period and won by one point.It was UT’s SSC-leading third conference road win.

‘We’re playing our best basketball right now, at the most important time of the year,’ Jessee said. ‘A huge road win for us, just huge.’

Messina, with 17 points and 8 rebounds, was one of a few key contributors.
While starting center Kym Taylor recovered from the flu, junior forward Tiara Cook earned her fourth double-double of the season with 15 points, including two late free throws, and 11 boards.

Freshman guard Sarah Wickham came off the bench and scored 13 second half points, shooting 3-of-4 from 3 point range.

With Taylor returning and Mytrik back from her ankle injury, the team appears to be healthy going into the stretch run.

‘You want to be 100 percent healthy this time of year,’ Jessee said.’ ‘So we certainly hope that by Wednesday (at St. Leo) we’re back to 100 percent healthy.’

Brenton Burkett can be reached at

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