Paris' 19 points, 13 boards lead Sooners to 2nd Final Four

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Courtney Paris will get the chance to back up her national championship guarantee in the Final Four.

Paris led the way with 19 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks as top-seeded Oklahoma surged ahead in the second half to beat Purdue 74-68 Tuesday night to earn the second trip to the Final Four in school history.

"It's been a long four years, but this just makes it all worth it," Paris said. "I'm not surprised."

Paris, a senior who on Tuesday became the first player ever to be selected as an AP All-American all four years of college, raised the stakes for the Sooners on her senior night in early March when she promised she'd bring home a national title or else pay back her scholarship.

She came through with her biggest game yet in the NCAA tournament and was named the most outstanding player of the Oklahoma City Regional.

As the clock ran down to zero, she caught a leaping Whitney Hand for an embrace at midcourt and then pumped her right fist in the air. A partisan crowd of 11,529 chanted "Final Four!" as the players danced in a circle on the center court logo.

For a player who had broken a myriad of records, a trip to the Final Four was about the only thing Paris hadn't done in her time at Oklahoma. She is the NCAA's best rebounder of all time and added another accomplishment to her list against Purdue by becoming the first player ever to block at least 100 shots in each of her four years in college.

"Let me just say that it may be the one thing missing, but winning the national championship isn't the whole deal," Sooners coach Sherri Coale said. "I just left a sea of players out there who gave us their guts for four years and didn't get to go to the Final Four and didn't get to play for a national championship who had wildly successful careers at the University of Oklahoma."

The Sooners (32-4) are headed back to the Final Four for the first time since losing to Connecticut in the 2002 championship game and will face Louisville, an upset winner against top-seeded Maryland, in the national semifinals in St. Louis.

Just as Paris promised.

"The thing that I really appreciated about it ... is that she's saying that you can depend on me," said her father, former NFL lineman Bubba Paris. "I want my teammates to know that I will give it everything that I've got and the reason that I came here is to do this, and if I don't do it then I feel as though I owe the school back something,"

Paris let her emotions run wild during the game. She stomped for a few steps after drawing a foul during the 11-0 run that gave the Sooners the lead for good and flapped her arms to encourage the crowd after she -- as a 56 percent free-throw shooter -- hit two late foul shots to push the lead to nine in the final minute.

"I'm a senior. I don't get another chance, and it's to go to the Final Four," Paris said. "You want to make sure you give everything you can and leave everything you've got out on the court, no matter if you're struggling or not."

Danielle Robinson added 23 points for Oklahoma, hitting seven free throws in the final 2½ minutes to close out the game.

Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton held her own against Paris to lead sixth-seeded Purdue (25-11) with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Lakisha Freeman and Brittany Rayburn scored 12 points apiece.

"She plays her game really well and she is very physical and it is tough to defend her," Wisdom-Hylton said of Paris.

Anything less than the Final Four would have been a disappointment for Paris, who had been shut out of even the final eight in her first three seasons with the Sooners. She hasn't been shy about saying this season was Final Four or bust from the very beginning, and took that to another level with her guarantee.

It wasn't looking so good for the Sooners early on, though.

After shooting 24 percent in their worst half of the season, Oklahoma needed an 11-point burst early in the second half to take the lead for good. Hand, shut out in the first half after scoring a career-best 22 points in the regional semifinal, hit a pair of 3-pointers during the run before Robinson's layup along the left baseline pushed the Sooners' lead to 37-31 with 13:20 to play.

Purdue countered with a three-point play by Rayburn before Wisdom-Hylton's jumper inside cut the deficit to one. The Boilermakers were within one again after FahKara Malone's driving layup, but then Hand connected on another 3 as Oklahoma started to create a cushion.

"Whatever it is, for whatever reason, a true freshman," Coale said, "when she makes a 3, we feel like we're invincible."

Paris pushed the lead to 58-51 with her layup at the right block with 3:45 left, and Robinson's two free throws extended the lead to nine a minute later.

Purdue didn't make another basket until Freeman's 3-pointer with 7.7 seconds left got the deficit down to four, and the Boilermakers fell short in their bid for the fourth Final Four in school history.

"At the end, we weren't out of it. We kept going back and forth and still doing good things," Boilermakers coach Sharon Versyp said. "But we did fall short."