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Starzz suddenly look a little nasty

Dydek’s altercation with Fire gets Utah fired-up

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There must be something in the water at the Delta Center. Something that turns mild-mannered athletes and coaches into, well, something they've never been before.

Like Dr. Jekyll changing into Mr. Hyde or vanilla ice cream transforming into Rocky Road, Utah's team is looking uncharacteristically wild.

First it was Fred Williams, the soft-spoken and eternally patient coach who found himself listening to the second half of the game against Detroit on the radio. The league assessed him a total of $1,800 in fines for his two technicals, saying he "verbally assaulted" the referee and didn't leave the court in "a timely manner" after being ejected.

It ties the third largest fine in WNBA history.

Wednesday night it was Margo Dydek. That's right, the 7-foot-2 center whose expressions barely change in the game was charged with a flagrant foul and ejected with less than a minute to go in Utah's 76-67 win over Portland.

Feisty would not be an adjective associated with Dydek, but that's what her actions could be called at the end of Wednesday's game. She was standing behind teammate Natalie Williams when Williams and several Portland players began to struggle with a rebound under the Fire basket. Guard Michelle Marciniak came flying off Williams' back and into Dydek's legs.

"She landed on my foot and I felt my knee going back, and I didn't want it to be hyperextended," Dydek said after the game. But it wasn't just self-defense that promoted the stoic Polish Olympian to reach down and whack Marciniak on top of the head. "I was frustrated," Dydek said in broken English. "It was a nasty game. We got so many fouls. They don't have that many. It was a strange game."

Marciniak jumped up after being swatted and looked like she meant to retaliate — at least that's what the referees and fans thought. Even the other players on the floor thought there might be a rumble, and several jumped into the action and had to be pulled out by officials and teammates. Marciniak was charged with a technical foul.

"I was just going after the rebound and I fell to the floor," Marciniaksaid. "All of a sudden I got popped in the head with Margo's elbow. It was uncalled for and I popped up to tell her that it was uncalled for . . . I would never (have retaliated). My reaction was to just pop up and say, 'Why'd you do that?' I would never hit back. Maybe my brother . . . I had absolutely no intention of fighting."

When told it was Dydek's hand and not her elbow, she laughed.

"That tells you how hard her hand is," she said. "I don't know how she even got down that low. I don't know what possessed her to do that. I hope it was not intentional."

Dydek said it was, but that it was not an attempt to start a brawl or hurt the 5-10 guard.

"I'm not fight," Dydek said. "I just hit her. That's it. It's not about her, just about the game."

The Utah center felt there were a few fouls left uncalled at the Utah end. It was a physical and mostly close game. Portland actually ended the game with 29 personal fouls to Utah's 25, but many of those came in the game's final seconds as the Fire took to fouling intentionally to get the ball back.

Dydek, like Williams, had never been ejected from the game. The incident will cost her at least $300, according to league rules, and maybe more. Shefeels she was penalized enough.

"I already suspended, right?" she said when asked about the penalty she might face. "I don't know the rules. I don't know why I got suspended and she stayed on the court."

Whatever motivated Dydek to reach down and smack Marciniak, her team extended its lead, starting with Natalie Williams making the two free throws from a foul called on Marciniak during the scuffle to get the rebound.

Portland's coach felt the incident gave the Starzz some momentum and inspired the crowd. Dydek left to a standing ovation and high-fived fans on her way to the locker room.

Marciniak said she felt bad if her reaction pumped Utah up in any way.

"Any momentum it stopped for us, I'm really sorry," she said. Adds Dydek with a slight smile, "Whatever works for the team."

E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com