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Big 12 In Search of Paris Stopper
November 03, 2006

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- After watching every player who's ever come through the Big 12, Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly doesn't compare Oklahoma's Courtney Paris to the best in conference history. He sees her on a higher plateau.

"I can't imagine in the modern era a kid that has impacted the game and is as hard to cover as she is," said Fennelly, who's been a Division I coach for 19 years, including 11 with the Cyclones.

It's more than just Paris' imposing 6-foot-3 frame. Fennelly calls her the "whole package" because she has skills, patience and the ability to handle double-teams. Plus, she defends.

"It's impossible to guard her," Fennelly said.

That seems to be the consensus heading into Paris' second season in the Big 12. The first one resulted in the first ever 19-0 run through Big 12 play and conference tournament by Oklahoma last season. League coaches made the Sooners a unanimous favorite to repeat as conference champs.

Here's a sampling of how league foes suggest dealing with Paris, who set Big 12 records last season for points, rebounds and blocks:

-- Baylor forward Bernice Mosby: "The player she is, I don't think you can stop her game. You can just slow her down a little bit. She has so many weapons. She's going to score her points. That's the given thing."

-- Texas forward Tiffany Jackson: "You have to expect her just to get hers. I think most of all, you can't let anyone else on her team succeed. She's just that kind of player where she's going to get her 30 touches a night. She's going to score."

-- Missouri coach Cindy Stein: "I would say that Courtney Paris presents a problem with every team ... because she has got great feet, great hands and great size. And so I think the key with Courtney is obviously try not to even let her touch the ball. Once she touches the ball, she will be extremely hard to stop."

And Sooners coach Sherri Coale still believes Paris can get better.

"While she does a lot of really dominant things, some days she does things in practice and in games where I shake my head and say, 'It is good to be me today. She is on my team.' She is a remarkable athlete," Coale said.

The Sooners return their top eight scorers, including the entire starting lineup, from last season's run to the NCAA tournament round of 16. Coale also expects improvement from Paris' twin sister, Ashley, and contributions from a recruiting class she called the second best in school history -- only to the Paris twins last year. The newcomers include McDonald's All-American Amanda Thompson and Abi Olajuwon, the daughter of NBA player Hakeem Olajuwon.

"She's really special and what she's done is not only is she good, she's bringing other players with her," Fennelly said of Paris.

Other contenders include Texas A&M, which brings back All-Big 12 junior Morenike Atunrase and the rest of its starters from its first NCAA tournament team in 10 years, and perennial powerhouses Baylor and Texas.

Mosby, who transferred to the Bears from Florida and sat out last season, should help ease the loss of Sophia Young, the Big 12 scoring champion and player of the year last season. Texas just wants to stay healthy after injuries to Jackson and others contributed to a 13-15 season and the end of a seven-year streak of NCAA tournament bids for the Longhorns.

Fennelly's Cyclones are among the favorites in the North, where Missouri is coming off an NCAA tournament bid and its first fourth-place or higher finish in Big 12 history and Kansas State is looking to get back in the NCAAs after winning the Women's NIT last season.

All will be gunning for Paris and the Sooners.

"When you're playing against Oklahoma, you're playing against one of the best teams in the country and you better lace them up tight. Whatever you can do against them, you can do against anyone. And whatever don't do well, they're going to expose it," Fennelly said.

"If you're a competitive player or coach, that's the challenge you've got to accept."

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