Oklahoma prepares for Rebels in Sweet Sixteen

Courtney Paris hasn't seen much of Ole Miss and Armintie Price up to this point. She and her Oklahoma Sooner teammates are learning about the Rebels and their All-American guard as we speak.

"You can tell she's a great player," Paris, the only scorer for OU in double figures, averaging 23.3 points per game, said of Price. "She plays with a lot of confidence and fight. She looks like an All-American to me."

Paris, a 6-foot-4 All-American herself as a sophomore center, has scored double-digit points and pulled down double-digit rebounds for 60 straight games. She is the Sooners' leader and says the Rebels will pose quite a threat to their goals of advancing to the Elite Eight.

"They're really quick and fast and athletic," she said of the 23-10 Rebels who upset defending national champion Maryland 89-78 Tuesday night to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. "They're scrappy and they press and pressure you. If we handle that, we can win."

Handling that might be difficult as the Terrapins found out Tuesday night in Hartford, Conn. Ole Miss led 35-12 early and although Maryland cut it to 75-69 late, the Rebels made free throws and pushed to the end for the big win.

"They're incredibly athletic," said OU head coach Sherri Coale, in her 11th season leading the Sooners, her team this year a third seed now 28-4. "They play with a lot of energy. They are aggressive on defense and turn their offensive mismatches into points. And Armintie Price is as good as any player in America."

Coale, who has Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth straight season with a Final Four appearance in 2001-02, said Ole Miss' win over second-seeded Maryland points to the parity of college basketball in this era.

"The first round didn't show that too much," she said. "There were several blowouts and 30-point games. But it was fun watching Bowling Green's energy and enthusiasm (in BGSU's 59-56 upset of second-seeded Vanderbilt). This is March Madness and it's great for the growth of the game. But it makes those of us higher seeds nervous. I'm glad we weren't a two seed when all was said and done."

Paris said Ole Miss reminds her somewhat of several teams the Sooners had trouble with this season. Oklahoma had only one bad stretch all year. They lost three of four games in late January-early February. Those three were to Texas A&M twice and to Texas.

"We faced A&M and Texas, and they're really athletic teams that press," she said. "In the Big 12 you go against those type teams and we've adjusted and gotten better. They were a good test for us to get ready to play Ole Miss."

Coale agreed that her team came into its own during the second half of the Big 12 season.

"Fortunately we're in a league (Big 12) that gets you ready for playing at this time of year," she said. "We feel we're more confident to play them (Ole Miss) now than we were six weeks ago."

In the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, Oklahoma beat Southeast Missouri State 74-60 and Marquette 78-47 in contests played in Austin, Texas. Paris said the Sooners, who have won 10 games in a row since losing those three of four, appear to be hitting their stride.

"We hit a slump in the middle of the season and we had to find ourselves," said Paris, whose twin sister, Ashley, is also on the OU squad. "We fixed some problems and with the leadership of our seniors we were able to get it done. We've played great as a team since the regular season (they won the Big 12 tournament in three games), and we're playing together and using our strengths."

Certainly one of those strengths is Courtney Paris, who in addition to her scoring and rebounding has 109 blocked shots on the season..

"It's sometimes easy to take what she does for granted," Coale said. "Her consistency is baffling. For her to go out and every night post those numbers is something special. Sometimes what she is able to do is mind-boggling."

Although Courtney Paris is the only Sooner in double figures in scoring (23.3) and rebounding (15.8), other players are important to the season they've had. Leah Rush (6-1, Sr., F) scores 9.8 points per game with four rebounds. Chelsi Welch (5-9, Sr., G) comes in with 9.1 points and 2.3 rebounds, while Courtney's sister Ashley scores at 7.4 points and 6.7 rebounds.

Courtney says it's been enjoyable to see her sister progress and play well.

"She's done a great job," said Courtney of Ashley. "She has been aggressive and the team has really needed her lately. So that's been good to see."

Coale says for the Sooners to beat seventh-seeded Ole Miss, which defeated TCU 88-74 in the first round before defeating Maryland, they'll have to try to control the speed of the game.

"One slower than theirs," she said of a tempo OU will want in the Sunday afternoon affair, which is set for 1:30 p.m. CT in Dayton. "They want it to be a track meet, and that's not advantageous to us. We don't want it to be up and down the court the whole game, which is what they will want. One key is to take away easy baskets for them. It will help if we can do that."

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