Courtney Paris gets chance to back up Final Four guarantee
April 1, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY ” Courtney Paris will get the chance to back up her national championship guarantee in the Final Four.
Paris led the way with 19 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks as top-seeded Oklahoma surged ahead in the second half to beat Purdue 74-68 Tuesday night to earn the second trip to the Final Four in school history.
“It’s been a long four years, but this just makes it all worth it,” Paris said. “I’m not surprised.”
Paris, a senior who on Tuesday became the first player ever to be selected as an AP All-American all four years of college, raised the stakes for the Sooners on her senior night in early March when she promised she’d bring home a national title or else pay back her scholarship.
She came through with her biggest game yet in the NCAA tournament and was named the most outstanding player of the Oklahoma City Regional.
As the clock ran down to zero, she caught a leaping Whitney Hand for an embrace at midcourt and then pumped her right fist in the air. A partisan crowd of 11,529 chanted “Final Four!” as the players danced in a circle on the center court logo.
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For a player who had broken a myriad of records, a trip to the Final Four was about the only thing Paris hadn’t done in her time at Oklahoma. She is the NCAA’s best rebounder of all time and added another accomplishment to her list against Purdue by becoming the first player ever to block at least 100 shots in each of her four years in college.
“Let me just say that it may be the one thing missing, but winning the national championship isn’t the whole deal,” Sooners coach Sherri Coale said. “I just left a sea of players out there who gave us their guts for four years and didn’t get to go to the Final Four and didn’t get to play for a national championship who had wildly successful careers at the University of Oklahoma.”
The Sooners (32-4) are headed back to the Final Four for the first time since losing to Connecticut in the 2002 championship game and will face Louisville, an upset winner against top-seeded Maryland, in the national semifinals in St. Louis.
Just as Paris promised.
“The thing that I really appreciated about it … is that she’s saying that you can depend on me,” said he father, former NFL lineman Bubba Paris. “I want my teammates to know that I will give it everything that I’ve got and the reason that I came here is to do this, and if I don’t do it then I feel as though I owe the school back something,”
Paris let her emotions run wild during the game. She stomped for a few steps after drawing a foul during the 11-0 run that gave the Sooners the lead for good and flapped her arms to encourage the crowd after she ” as a 56 percent free-throw shooter ” hit two late foul shots to push the lead to nine in the final minute.
“I’m a senior. I don’t get another chance, and it’s to go to the Final Four,” Paris said. “You want to make sure you give everything you can and leave everything you’ve got out on the court, no matter if you’re struggling or not.”
Danielle Robinson added 23 points for Oklahoma, hitting seven free throws in the final 2 1/2 minutes to close out the game.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton held her own against Paris to lead sixth-seeded Purdue (25-11) with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Lakisha Freeman and Brittany Rayburn scored 12 points apiece.
“She plays her game really well and she is very physical and it is tough to defend her,” Wisdom-Hylton said of Paris.
Anything less than the Final Four would have been a disappointment for Paris, who had been shut out of even the final eight in her first three seasons with the Sooners. She hasn’t been shy about saying this season was Final Four or bust from the very beginning, and took that to another level with her guarantee.
It wasn’t looking so good for the Sooners early on, though.
After shooting 24 percent in their worst half of the season, Oklahoma needed an 11-point burst early in the second half to take the lead for good.
Connecticut 83, Arizona State 64
TRENTON, N.J. ” Connecticut didn’t even bother cutting down the nets after wrapping up a second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
The Huskies have bigger goals in mind.
The UConn express is heading to St. Louis in search of two more victories and a national championship.
Maya Moore scored 25 points and the undefeated Huskies beat Arizona State 83-64 on Tuesday night to advance to the national semifinals for the ninth time in the last 14 years.
Last season, the Huskies cut down the nets after winning the Raleigh Regional final. Now they’ll wait until they complete the undefeated season to snip the twine.
“I said last year we’d be back,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “We are going back it’s ironic that we’re playing the same team. We’re pretty excited right now. It’s good, it’s all good.”
Renee Montgomery added 22 points for the Huskies (37-0), who will face Stanford on Sunday in a rematch of last season’s national semifinal. The Cardinal won that game before losing in the championship to Tennessee. UConn hasn’t lost since.
“It’s great we get to play Stanford again,” Montgomery said.
The Huskies have entered the NCAAs unbeaten three other times. Connecticut went on to win the national championship in 1995 and 2002. In ’97, the Huskies lost to Tennessee in the regional final.
Danielle Orsillo scored 18 to lead Arizona State (26-9), which played the Huskies as competitively as just about any other opponent this season but still had its season end in the regional final for the second time in three years.
It was a busy day for Moore, who made The Associated Press All-America team for the second straight season.
She also broke UConn’s single-season scoring record on a step-back 3-pointer late in the first half that gave the Huskies their first double-digit lead of the game 34-24.
The sensational sophomore passed Kara Wolters’ record of 694 points set in 1995-96. Wolters was sitting courtside doing radio for a Connecticut station.
And Moore nabbed another honor after the game, being selected the Trenton Regionals most outstanding player.
Moore was joined on the All-America team by Montgomery, marking the first time a pair of teammates were on the first-team since 2000. Tina Charles, who added 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Sun Devils, earned second-team honors.