Hand, Sooners overcome Paris' foul trouble to reach Elite Eight

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Whitney Hand couldn't quite remember her teammate's buzzer-beating 3-pointer that started Oklahoma's big run. And it took a few moments for her to remember the wild scoop shot that she contributed to that surge.

Looking back, the game seemed to be as much of a blur for her as she made it for Pittsburgh.

Hand set new career highs with 22 points and eight rebounds, and the top-seeded Sooners rolled to a 70-59 win over Pitt on Sunday night to reach the regional finals of the NCAA tournament for only the second time in school history.

"I don't think it's about what I did. I think that we all had a goal coming into this game. It was a goal of making it to the Elite Eight," said Hand, a freshman guard. "No one on the court had made it there yet, including myself, so it wasn't like any of us were really in a familiar position."

Oklahoma (31-4) put the game away with a 20-2 second-half surge that included Hand's crazy shot that bounded its way into the basket. The Sooners were hardly bothered by foul trouble that kept Courtney Paris off the court much of the game, getting double-digit scoring from all five starters.

Paris, the Sooners' All-America center, made waves on her senior night earlier this month when she promised that Oklahoma would win its first national title or she'd pay back her scholarship money.

So far, it has been Hand -- who missed the last four games of the regular season with a broken left index finger -- who's been Oklahoma's go-to girl in the NCAA tournament.

And while she won't take the credit, her coach is ready to give it to her.

"I disagree with Whitney when she says that it doesn't matter the magnitude of the game," Sooners coach Sherri Coale said. "I think she's an extraordinary collegiate basketball player already, and you can spot the great ones because they show up when the lights are brightest."

Shavonte Zellous scored 18 points on 7-for-20 shooting to lead Pitt, which lost in the round of 16 for the second straight year.

Oklahoma, which made its only other regional final appearance in 2002 on its way to the national championship game, advances to face sixth-seeded Purdue (25-10) on Tuesday night.

"It's not about how good I played or individual stats at all," Hand said. "I'm really glad I had a good game and I'm thankful, but at the same time I'm so much happier that we made it to the Elite Eight and we're still alive."

Hand hit three 3-pointers and scored 15 points in the second round against Georgia Tech to shake the rust off after three miserable games in which she went a combined 2-for-22 and got shut out twice. As it turned out, that was just a preview of what was to come.

She hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 of the Sooners' first 32 points as Oklahoma shrugged off Paris' early foul trouble. After Paris went to the bench with her second foul, the Sooners outscored Pitt 15-7 over the next 3½ minutes and stretched their lead to 39-25 on Nyeshia Stevenson's 3-pointer with 3:03 left before halftime.

Then, after Paris went to the bench with her fourth foul early in the second half, Hand came through with her circus shot in the lane. Hand gave an open-mouthed grin and got a few pats on her backside from her teammates before stepping to the line to complete her three-point play and make it 60-37 with 13:18 remaining.

"At that time they were giving us heavy pressure, so I'm glad the shot went in because it would have been a retarded shot if it hadn't," said Hand, who struggled to remember that play and had no memory at all of Stevenson's shot-clock beating 3-pointer that started the whole run.

Oklahoma's lead grew to 27 on Jasmine Hartman's free throw shortly thereafter, and Pitt only made a dent in the lead by closing the game on a 12-0 run.

Ashley Paris, Courtney's twin sister, had 12 points and 12 rebounds for Oklahoma while her sister narrowly missed out on her 127th career double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds.

Danielle Robinson and Stevenson, making her third straight start in place of the injured Amanda Thompson, scored 10 apiece.

Thompson, who played only 3 minutes total in the first two rounds because of an injured left foot, logged another 3 minutes after the game was out of hand in the second half.

"We knew they were going to get good shots from the perimeter and we weren't going to shut them down completely, but wanted to at least be there and contest them and probably disrupt them," said Pitt's Xenia Stewart, who scored 10 points. "They got wide-open shots and they knocked them down."

Pitt went just 23-for-74 from the field -- including a 1-for-12 stretch to start the second half.

It got bad enough for the Panthers that even in the middle of their 10-2 run to got the lead below 20 points, freshman Kate Popovec fell into the lane before Zellous could attempt the front end of a one-and-one and Pitt lost possession.

The Panthers already had to overcome a raucous home crowd for the Sooners, who were playing less than a half-hour from their campus.

More than an hour before the game, the crowd was already showing its favoritism. When an image of Paris and two teammates walking down a hallway was flashed on the big screen in the second half of the Purdue-Rutgers game, fans applauded and yelled.

The Sooners then got one standing ovation when they first stepped into the arena, huddling and jumping up and down near the unoccupied Pitt bench, and another as they ran back off the court after warmups.

"Little kids dream of that. They dream of playing in an environment like that, but usually their dreams are when it's their home court and it's their environment," Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said. "It was an opportunity for our ladies to come out and perform and to see what we were made of, and I think that Oklahoma was the better team tonight."