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A hand in UT's success
Sheena Walton's shooting, rebounding, blocking are key.
By DAVID NORRIE, Times correspondent
Published February 28, 2007
A year ago, Tampa center Sheena Walton set a school record for blocked shots in a season with 105.
Her 81 rejections this season were a fitting encore, as she led the Sunshine State Conference in blocks for the third year in a row.
But consider the fact a majority of those 81 blocks came by way of her left hand. And those shots denied by her strong side hand didn't come without a price. Walton broke her right hand the first day of fall practice and had surgery the next day, missing the team's first five games. She started the remaining 22 games despite a metal screw in the hand.
"I think that's what probably defines her this year, her toughness," Tampa coach Tom Jessee said. "Many players would've laid down. She's made no excuses and on most nights she did as much as she could based on the pain but never complained about it once."
The hand wasn't the only thing to overcome. Midway through the season, Walton broke her nose fighting for a rebound during practice. It happened on a Monday. Tuesday she had it reset and on Wednesday returned to the court, scoring 16 and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 17-point upset over Florida Tech.
A valid candidate for league MVP this season, Walton leads the conference in field goal percentage (57.7), blocked shots (3.68) and offensive rebounds (3.41). Jessee felt she was somewhat "short-changed" last year in terms of consideration, pointing out she was among the SSC's top five in blocked shots (1st), field goal percentage (1st), scoring (2nd) and rebounding (5th).
On Tuesday she was named a first-team all-Sunshine State Conference selection. Though Jessee would like to see her impact the tournament, he has worked hard to craft the team in such a manner that if opponents focus on taking her out of the equation, the supporting cast is capable of stepping up.
It's that type of depth that has Tampa poised to defend its SSC Tournament title. A year ago, UT went in as the No. 2 seed and upset undefeated Rollins in the championship, earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
A rematch with the top-seeded Tars (22-5, 13-3) is possible should both reach the title game Sunday. The tournament begins today at Lynn in Boca Raton. The No. 3 Spartans play No. 6 Nova Southeastern on Thursday at noon.
Tampa (20-7, 12-4) won 10 of its past 11 to finish the season with 20 wins, the first time in school history UT has had back-to-back 20-win seasons.
"You want to peak at the right time," Jessee said. "I felt we hit our stride at the right time. I don't know if we've had a game where I've said 'wow.' After our final game we wrote "Defend it" on the chalkboard and that's what we hope to do."