March 20, 2009

(AP) - Courtney Paris has guaranteed a national championship would be coming to Oklahoma this season, putting up the cost of her scholarship as collateral.

Led by their top scorer and rebounder, the top-seeded Sooners will take the first step toward that ultimate goal when they meet 16th-seed Prairie View A&M in a first-round game on Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa.

Oklahoma (28-4) will be making its 10th straight NCAA tournament appearance and 12th overall but has never won a national title. During senior night festivities on March 4, Paris said she'd either deliver a championship or a check covering her scholarship, estimated to be some $75,000.

Courtney and her twin sister and teammate, Ashley, are the daughters of Bubba Paris, an offensive lineman who won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s.

"I am confident in my team, I believe in my team and I want my team to know I believe in them," said Courtney Paris, who averages 16.4 points and ranks second nationally with 13.7 rebounds per game. "And also, I believe in my university and I believe in what I'm doing and I feel like I want to do something special for them."

She also will be trying to forget a subpar performance in the Big 12 semifinals last Saturday.

After scoring a season-high 27 points with 14 rebounds against Kansas a day earlier, Paris was mired in foul trouble and limited to 15 and 10 in the Sooners' 74-62 loss to Texas A&M.

She has 28 double-doubles this season, giving her 125 in 132 career games at Oklahoma. Ashley Paris was third on the team with 12.7 points per game and second with 9.5 boards and 16 double-doubles in 2008-09.

Courtney Paris, though, enters the tournament needing 30 rebounds to become the first college basketball player - regardless of gender, membership or division - with 2,500 points and 2,000 rebounds in a career.

Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said Paris' guarantee would not divert her team's attention.

"Anything can be a distraction if you let it," Coale said. "What we're focused on is competing every single possession, blocking out, executing, setting screens, hard basket cuts, spacing, timing, making free throws and all those things that actually determine whether or not you win basketball games."

Helping to get the ball to the Paris sisters will be sophomore point guard Danielle Robinson, who averages a team-high 5.8 assists to go along with 12.8 points.

"You have to bring that energy, but you also have to lead," she said.

Should the fourth-ranked Sooners win, they would face either No. 8 seed Iowa or ninth-seeded Georgia on Tuesday. But first, they need to get past Prairie View, the Southwest Athletic Conference champion which is looking for its 20th consecutive win and first in seven tries against Oklahoma.

The Lady Panthers (23-10) are coached by two-time WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who helped lead the now-defunct Houston Comets to the league's first four titles. That success has continued on the college level as she's guided Prairie View to three consecutive SWAC championships.

Cooper-Dyke, who also won an Olympic gold medal, said the Lady Panthers' game plan is to defend, rebound and run.

"When we have those three things working together I feel like we're a pretty tough team to beat," she told the school's official Web site.

Junior guard Candice Thomas is Prairie View's leading scorer with 13.1 points per game. Junior forward Gaati Werema averages 12.1 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds.

Werema was named SWAC tournament MVP after tallying 29 points and 16 rebounds in a 74-49 rout of Southern last Saturday.