March 31, 2009

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Oklahoma City (AP) - 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.

The Sooners (32-4) will face Louisville, an upset winner against top-seeded Maryland, in the national semifinals in St. Louis.

Danielle Robinson scored 23 points for Oklahoma, which has made it this far for the first time since losing to Connecticut in the 2002 championship game.

Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton led sixth-seeded Purdue (25-11) with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Lakisha Freeman and Brittany Rayburn scored 12 points apiece.

Paris, a senior who on Monday 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.

Anything less 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 a poor-shooting first half, 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.

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.

Along with the victory, Paris became the first player to block at least 100 shots in each of her four years in school.

Oklahoma, which came in trailing only undefeated Connecticut by shooting 48 percent for the field, came out with its worst shooting half of the season despite getting 11 more shots off than Purdue. The Sooners made only eight of their 34 shots (24 percent) before halftime, with Robinson going just 2-for-8 while Paris was 3-for-8 from close range.

After a hot stretch that started with their best shooting ever in the Big Ten tournament, Purdue cooled off by making 30 percent from the field but made up for it by making all 12 of their free throws to lead 27-22 at the half.