Nov. 19, 2008
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- If Oklahoma (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 2 AP) is playing at its best, All-America center Courtney Paris doesn't even have to be the one who takes over a game for the Sooners.
Her twin sister, Ashley Paris, scored 21 points, Amanda Thompson added 20 and Oklahoma acclimated to its highest ranking in school history with an 85-65 win against Middle Tennessee on Wednesday night.
The Sooners (2-0) were playing their first game since matching the program's highest point ever in the AP poll, achieved in the final rankings before their run to the 2002 national championship game, but didn't fall victim to the upsets that dropped preseason No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 Maryland behind them.
Instead, they took control with a 13-0 run while Courtney Paris was on the bench midway through the first half.
"If they want to take her away, we have other guys who can score," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "And then the second half, they had to try to answer some of those other ones and that opened it up for Courtney."
Courtney Paris got off to a slow start but had enough points and rebounds in the second half alone to rack up her 94th consecutive double-double. She had 13 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out with 3:20 remaining.
Middle Tennessee (1-1) brought in a double-double machine of its own in transfer Alysha Clark. She poured in 31 points and had 16 rebounds for her 39th career double-double. She averaged a double-double in two seasons at Belmont before transferring and sitting out last season.
"Some of you guys might be old enough to remember a kid named Phylesha Whaley. That's who that post looked like, the way she moves her body and gets fouled and is great from the free throw line," Coale said. "She was just a handful to guard."
Whaley is Oklahoma's career scoring leader with 2,187 points, but Paris is closing in. She needs only 18 points to match Whaley for first, and gets her first chance Friday night against Arizona State (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) in the Women's Preseason NIT semifinals.
Middle Tennessee falls into the consolation bracket and will face Indiana next.
"I was proud of our kids. They didn't quit. We stayed in there," Blue Raiders coach Rick Insell said. "We are underdogs just about everywhere we go because we play just about everyone in the country.
"We've beaten some of them and some of them we haven't. This was a good trip for us to play and we know what we need to do now to get better."
The Blue Raiders' relentless outside shooting was no match for the Sooners' inside game. Oklahoma outscored Middle Tennessee 56-18 in the paint and forced an uncharacteristic 13 first-half turnovers to get the Blue Raiders off their game.
Middle Tennessee, which finished fourth in the country in 3-pointers made per game last season, was 9-for-30 from behind the arc and took more than half of its shots from 3-point range.
"One of our goals was to limit the 3s and they got too way many up. Some of them were rushed and challenged, but they got too many looks," Coale said.
"However, the flip side of that is if we can make them turn it over the way we did, that means we're pushing the envelope a little bit, and I'm proud of that."