March 20, 2000

By HANK LOWENKRON
AP Sports Writer

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Oklahoma may have been down 17 points to defending national champion Purdue, but the Lady Sooners were far from out.

LaNeishea Caufield scored 26 points - 16 in the second half - as Oklahoma took its first lead of the game with 63 seconds left and beat Purdue 76-74 in the second round of the women's NCAA East Regional.

"They never lost faith," said Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale of the team she turned into winners after going 5-22 in 1997. "They never doubted they would win."

Oklahoma (25-7) trailed from the start until Caufield hit two free throws with 1:03 left to put the Sooners ahead 73-72. Purdue (23-8) had two chances to regain the lead and one to tie it in the final seconds.

Purdue's Katie Douglas, the Big Ten player of the year who had just 4 points, missed on a drive and was called for a foul with 41.4 seconds remaining. Stacey Dales hit two free throws and on the next trip down the court a 3-point attempt by Douglas bounced off the front of the rim.

"We did not value each possession in the last five minutes," Purdue coach Kristy Curry said. "Oklahoma did a great job converting and we did not do a very good job of executing.

Camille Cooper, who had a career-high 34 points, then grabbed the rebound but stepped out of bounds. Dales, who added 16 points, made one of two free throws with 21 seconds remaining.

Cooper missed two free throws with 9.9 seconds left and then scored a basket with just over a second to play.

"Oklahoma came out and played with a lot of composure," Cooper said. "They never got rattled. It was hard to watch those final few minutes. You have to credit them with playing hard and with a lot of composure."

Oklahoma, ranked 18th, was down 59-46 with 11:05 to go.

A 13-2 run brought the Sooners back into the game with Jadrea Seeley capping the run by hitting a 3-pointer with 7:06 to go. It made the score 61-59 as Purdue was going more than four minutes without a field goal.

Purdue pulled ahead 68-62 on a three-point play by Shinika Parks with 5:18 to go, but Oklahoma wouldn't quit.

Cooper's previous high was 26 points. Parks scored 17 of a career-best 22 points in the first half.

"I didn't dream that she'd have 17 points in the first half. Our second-half adjustment was to not let her go right," Coale said. "We did a much better job of that in the second half.

Oklahoma, seeded fifth, will play top-seeded Connecticut in a semifinal game Saturday at Richmond, Va.

The loss ended a seven-game NCAA tournament winning streak on its homecourt for Purdue. The Boilermakers built a 42-25 lead in the first half and held a 44-32 lead at the break.

"We can all talk about how Katie played, but it is about five people on the court," Curry said. "It's not about one person, Katie has done a lot for this program."

Phylesha Whaley, the Big 12 player of the year who became Oklahoma's career-scoring leader on Saturday, had 11 points and was 4-of-8 from the field.

"We kept playing because we had nothing to lose. You play hard or you go home," Whaley said. "I'm just proud to have been a part of building this program. This victory shows we can win without a lot of points from me."