The facts behind the Big 12 fight

Updated: January 19, 2004, 8:50 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Well, it has been a nutso last few days in the Big 12. We had the Kansas-Missouri skirmish at Columbia last Saturday -- and we'll get to the real story on that in just a bit.

Texas Tech and Texas, Nos. 1 and 3 in the coaches' poll, respectively, got beat Wednesday by Iowa State and Baylor.

Funny thing, on the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference, we all asked Iowa State's Bill Fennelly and Baylor's Kim Mulkey-Robertson about their "hell week'' as each had to face both Texas Tech and Texas this week. Little did we know ...

Actually, there were some clues both of those upsets might happen. Iowa State's Katie Robinette, a transfer from Nebraska who has had many rocky times in recent years, has been an X-factor waiting to happen. The Cyclones' defense effectively harassed Texas Tech shooter Natalie Ritchie, taking away a chief weapon.

Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp now has lost in three of her four trips to Ames, Iowa, since the Big 12 started. Before going up to Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum, she called it a "minefield.'' It has been that for more than just Texas Tech, of course.

As for Baylor, with such a potent and athletic inside game, no one who follows the Big 12 is surprised to see that team beat anybody. Plus, after Baylor had lost its home opener to Colorado and then was down by 16 to supposed conference doormat (hah!) Texas A&M before rallying, Mulkey-Robertson sounded very calm talking about facing Texas and Texas Tech back-to-back.

"It's not a defining week for us,'' she said, probably reflecting what she told her team: It's a long haul in this league.

Nebraska, which last season at times didn't have enough healthy scholarship players to fill a Volkswagen Beetle, defeated host Missouri on Wednesday. The Cornhuskers, 8-20 last season, are 12-2 this year.

Oklahoma had to go to overtime Wednesday to escape from Texas A&M with a victory. The Aggies have lost all three of their conference games, but have been so close that it's obvious they will knock off somebody. They fell by two points to Oklahoma State, three to Baylor and nine to the Sooners.

Now, about the Kansas-Missouri thing ... I was not at this game; I was covering Kansas State at Colorado that day. But I've seen the same tape of the incident as the Big 12 office did, which shows several different angles. In fact, I've watched it now many, many times.

The Big 12 handed out three suspensions to KU players and essentially agreed with MU's action of one-game suspensions for two Tigers. But then MU added another game to the Tiger player who'd thrown a punch. KU waited for the Big 12's ruling on disciplinary action.

Most of the players on both teams were not involved -- they were either backing up or trying to make peace. The ones who were involved, obviously, acted inappropriately.

The Jayhawks were worked up over a quote from MU freshman Blair Hardiek in a Columbia newspaper, saying essentially that she saw no reason the Tigers' seven-game winning streak over KU couldn't continue for her career.

This seemed to fuel KU, and the Jayhawks ended the streak. That's fine. Win, then go to your locker room and woof it up. Celebrate all you want on the way home.

Instead, some of the Jayhawks taunted and mocked the Tigers on the floor right after the game. MU senior Evan Unrau responded verbally to the taunts -- after KU freshman Lauren Ervin had yelled it four times -- by saying "Shut up'' with an expletive.

Then KU's Kandis Bonner initiated the physical part of the hostilities by shoving Unrau, who did not retaliate. However, MU's MyEsha Perkins came in and threw a punch at Bonner. When peace was almost restored fairly quickly, Bonner re-ignited the confrontation by kicking at Perkins.

Frankly, the shove, the punch and the kick were totally wrong, but none were delivered with enough force to do any damage.

But then KU's Larisha Graves came from behind MU's Christelle N'Garsanet, who had been trying to act as peacemaker. When the "kick'' started the scrum again, N'Garsanet attempted to pull back her own teammate, Perkins. But Graves grabbed N'Garsanet by the neck and threw her to the floor. It was fortunate that N'Garsanet wasn't hurt.

That's when N'Garsanet finally lost it, and she got up to go after Graves. The Big 12 was hesitant to suspend N'Garsanet; her actions are the most justifiable of any of the five suspended players -- the others were Bonner, Graves, KU's Tamara Ransburg (who cocked for a punch but didn't really land it) and MU's Perkins. But MU coach Cindy Stein insisted N'Garsanet also be punished.

The Missouri program has refused to comment negatively about Kansas. That is following Big 12 policy. But the day after the incident, KU coach Marian Washington spoke by phone to one of my colleagues at The Star. She was under the mistaken impression that MU was publicly blaming KU, and so she criticized Missouri.

The wire services picked up this story and used Washington's quotes from The Kansas City Star saying, among other things, "There is no way in the world my players started anything with Missouri'' and accusing the MU band of spitting at the Jayhawks.

From long experience covering Missouri, I know the MU band members can say things that are inappropriate. I heard some of them make sexist comments at Southwest Missouri State players in December.

However, there is no evidence, based on the tape, that the MU band members spit at the Jayhawks when they left the floor. MU band officials have denied it. But what might have happened, and Missouri acknowledges this, is that a fan or fans threw ice from their cups at some of the Jayhawks after the scuffle. Again, absolutely inappropriate.

The bottom line is that the only blame Missouri has assigned has been to its own players, not KU's. MU quickly condemned the Tigers' involvement in the incident.

KU has not made similar statements thus far about the culpability of the Jayhawks involved, nor acknowledged that the tape shows a KU player initiated the physical contact. And there has been no retraction of publicly blaming the incident entirely on Missouri.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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