Ann Killion
Tuesday March 9th, 2010

Despite dominating its sport, the UConn women's basketball team won't be the only story going into next week's NCAA Tournament.

Brittney Griner guaranteed that.

Griner gave women's basketball another talking point when she hauled off and punched Texas Tech's Jordan Barncastle. Griner's fist broke Barncastle's nose last Wednesday, cost Griner a two-game suspension and set off a predictable firestorm about appropriate behavior in women's sports.

It might not be the kind of publicity women's basketball wants, but it livens up UConn's coronation proceedings.

Griner's act of aggression assured her a spot on the March Madness radar. But that was a given even before the incident. At 6-foot-8 and already famous for dunking in a game, Griner could find few places to hide.

Griner joins Elizabeth Lambert, the University of New Mexico ponytail-pulling foul machine of soccer, and lines women-harassing Serena Williams, as the new poster woman of aggression in women's sports.

Not that there's any evidence of such a trend. But a few well-publicized YouTube clips have sent media members running to sports psychologists and Women's Sports Foundation authorities to delve into the matter.

The conclusion? In the heat of battle, female athletes can do stupid, aggressive things. Just like, you know, that other gender.

Griner -- who wrote an apology to her team, her sport and Texas Tech -- received a two-game suspension. That seems light given the egregious result and intent of her action. But even two games have managed to hurt her team.

Without Griner, Baylor lost its regular-season finale against Texas, missing the chance at a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tournament. She'll miss the Bears' first Big 12 game on Thursday against Colorado.

With Baylor sure to be a factor in the NCAA Tournament, Griner will be subjected to intense scrutiny as well as taunts and cruelty from fans. However, many are sympathetic to the 19-year-old who stands out everywhere she goes, and some, like her coach Kim Mulkey, want to protect her.

After the Texas Tech incident, Mulkey insisted that she would "deal with Brittney Griner, and it won't be discussed in the media."

Sure it won't be.

Mulkey successfully recruited the most high-profile freshman in the game. It's not as though Griner was just thrust into the spotlight. Like top high school male players, Griner has been a public persona for years. Before her fist connected with Barncastle's face, Mulkey knew Griner was highly visible.

There's no hiding. There's no chance of being wrapped in a cocoon of privacy or being sheltered by her coach.

Now we get to see how Griner responds in public and how she takes on the responsibility of representing her school and her sport. We'll also see if she can grow up in public, which is what we've demanded of other athletes -- both male and female -- over the years.

It might not be the usual storyline in women's basketball. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.