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Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Woodling

KU women overcome ugly incident

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I'm no historian, but I'm convinced the nadir of Kansas University women's basketball occurred almost exactly two years ago.

On paper, the Jayhawks bottomed out four years ago, when they played 16 Big 12 Conference games and didn't win a single one. That was bad, all right.

And yet in its relatively short three-decade-plus history, KU women's basketball never has suffered from a blacker black eye than it did on Jan. 10, 2004, when three Jayhawks were suspended and another reprimanded after a fight broke out following KU's 55-52 victory over Missouri in Columbia, Mo.

That nasty postgame incident at the Hearnes Center basically was the beginning of the end for veteran coach Marian Washington, who weeks later took a leave of absence for announced health reasons and eventually retired a month or so later.

All four of the KU players chastised for their involvement in the fracas at Mizzou were eligible to play for the Jayhawks the following season under new coach Bonnie Henrickson. None did.

Tamara Ransburg, Kandis Bonner and Larisha Graves each received a one-game suspension from the conference office - Ransburg for attempting to strike an MU player, Bonner for kicking one of the Tigers and Graves for grabbing a Mizzou player from behind and pulling her to the floor.

In addition, KU's Lauren Ervin received a public reprimand for taunting the Tigers, an act generally regarded as the catalyst for the rumble.

Ransburg, Bonner, Graves and Ervin all packed their bags and headed for greener pastures after that season.

The 6-foot-4 Ransburg, who had averaged 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds a game, went to Old Dominion, where she sat out 2004-05 under NCAA transfer rules. Sad to say, though, Ransburg tore an ACL in preseason practice six weeks ago and will have to sit out this season as well.

Bonner wound up her college career last season at tiny Miles College, an NCAA Div. II school in Alabama. Graves, who had one year of eligibility remaining, dropped off the radar screen.

Then there's Ervin, who had more baggage to pack - much more - than the other three.

Rated by one service as the second-best prep player in the country, the 6-foot-3 Ervin had a checkered past. She had attended three high schools and once was kicked off an Olympics development team for punching a teammate.

At Kansas, the leopard didn't change its spots. Ervin was benched for four games, primarily for disciplinary reasons, in addition to the league reprimand. Ervin then transferred to UNLV, then went to Dixie College, a two-year school in St. George, Utah, to work on her grades.

But that route didn't pan out, and now the nomadic Ervin has pitched her tent at Mount San Antonio CC in Walnut, Calif., where at last check she was leading the team in scoring and rebounding.

Today, the ugly Mizzou incident seems like ancient history, with the Jayhawks off to a surprising 11-0 start and poised to make some noise in the Big 12 Conference race. Yet it was only two years ago.

Henrickson and the players who stayed - notably Crystal Kemp and Erica Hallman - are the reasons the public perception of KU women's basketball has done an about-face.

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