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Starzz douse feisty Fire

Gentle-giant Dydek gets ejected after slapping opponent

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Starzz 76, Fire 67

Adrienne Goodson said too much was made of the Utah Starzz's three team meetings on Tuesday because no player was singled out or reprimanded and the real intent was to bring the team together, "to get people on the same page."

The results, according to Goodson and several teammates, were evident as the Starzz long held a precarious lead in Wednesday night's hard-fought (literally) 76-67 Delta-Center win over the Portland Fire.

Portland, 6-13, may be an expansion team, but it was playing with great confidence after handing 16-3 Los Angeles its first home loss of the season Tuesday night, 80-77. So maintaining a lead most of the game and either withstanding Portland's runs or coming back quickly when the Fire took a couple of five-point leads near the end of the first half was an accomplishment for 10-10 Utah.

"In the past, we probably would have lost that game," said WNBA All-Star Natalie Williams, who had 22 points —16 in the second half — and 14 rebounds in leading the Starzz to just their third win in the last eight games. "But in the end, we moved the ball around and didn't take quick shots."

"Definitely," said Jennifer Azzi about seeing progress. "I felt like we were all on the same page. We still have mistakes to iron out, but we were focused and together."

So together that referees had to dissuade Goodson from protecting her 7-foot-2 teammate Margo Dydek. Dydek received a flagrant foul and ejection (and probably a $300 fine from the WNBA) for whacking Portland guard Michelle Marciniak in the head after Marciniak, in the opinion of the Starzz, endangered Dydek's knees by falling backward into them.

Goodson (16 points, nine rebounds, two steals, two blocked shots) raced toward Marciniak, who bounced up to charge at a backing-away Dydek and received a technical foul, but Goodson was held up by officials and quickly calmed down. "I want (Dydek) to know I got her back," Goodson said.

Azzi and Natalie Williams were quick to verbally defend Dydek. "People take cheap shots at her all the time," said Azzi. "You get fed up. I'm surprised she hasn't done it before now."

"She doesn't like it when people fall on her knees, and neither do I," said Williams, noting that both she (with Team USA) and Dydek (with Poland) see their Olympic dreams passing before their eyes during possible-injury situations. Marciniak gave Williams at least a couple of extracurricular whacks in the game. Williams said she's used to Marciniak's "feisty, spirited" play since they were in the old ABL together.

"It wasn't necessary," Marciniak said of what she thought was an elbow hit by Dydek. "I just popped right up and told her that was so uncalled for. That's all I said, and I get hit with a technical for retaliating, although I didn't do too much. I would have never hit her back. I've never done that in my life."

Marciniak scored 11 points and had three steals off the Portland bench. Guard Sophia Witherspoon led the Fire with 19 points, including 10-for-10 free-throwing. Sylvia Crawley, who missed the L.A. game with an ankle sprain, had eight points, seven boards.

Portland coach Linda Hargrove was "shocked" her player got T'd. "Somebody hits you in the head, you can't even walk up to them. I guess she had a threatening posture or something," Hargrove said.

Starzz coach Fred Williams, fined $1,800 Monday for two technicals and an ejection last week, said he thought it was an accident because Marciniak "was backing up. Every team in this league loves each other. We hate to see that happen in any game."

On a loose-ball play with :37.5 left in the game and Utah leading 67-62, Marciniak was called for fouling Natalie Williams, who rebounded a missed Marciniak layup. Marciniak quickly flailed backward away from Williams, apparently hoping the foul would be against Utah's star, and fell onto Dydek's feet and knees.

Dydek said she meant to hit Marciniak to get her off her knees. "She landed on my foot, and I felt my knee going back, and I didn't want it to be hyper-extended," said Dydek, whose right elbow was wrapped because she had hyper-extended it in Wednesday's shootaround. "Like every human, everyone gets their nerves, and sometimes you just go. It was a little bit of frustration."

Dydek had eight points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots and three assists. Guard Korie Hlede added 13 points and four rebounds.

Utah hosts 12-6 Phoenix Friday at 7 in the Delta Center and travels to 13-7 Sacramento on Saturday before breaking for Monday's All-Star Game in Phoenix.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com