Paris era ends with Final Four loss

ST. LOUIS -- Ashley Paris best summed up what she and twin sister Courtney have felt about playing for Oklahoma the past four seasons.

"To get this far and not be able to do it just hurts," Ashley said of the Sooners falling short of a national championship, after their 61-59 semifinal loss Sunday to Louisville. "But more than anything, it's not being with this team anymore. I think I would have been this emotional had we won on Tuesday, just the fact of being done with this program."

The truth is, though, that the Paris sisters will never really be done with Oklahoma, a place where their names will always rank among the favorites of Sooner fans.

In their time in Norman, the Sooners won two Big 12 tournaments, filled the Lloyd Noble Center several times and went to the program's second Final Four.

"The older we get, the more we realize how precious time is and how quickly it flies," Oklahoma's Sherri Coale said. "As a coach, you do the same thing. I have a whole host of alumni sitting out there tonight that have just made us fabulously proud, and it seems like to me just yesterday that they were all playing for me.

"So it all goes by in the blink of an eye. And we've enjoyed this era. Courtney and Ashley have done some phenomenal things for our program. Some things that will live on a long, long time, I'm sure."

Things like Courtney's 112 consecutive double-doubles, and 128 for her career (after Sunday's 16-point, 16-rebound performance), are records that might well stand forever. As for the scholarship Courtney said she would pay back if OU didn't win the title? The school doesn't want the money. Courtney has already done more than enough.

Still, it is difficult for the Paris sisters to process not winning the title that both of them wanted so much for the Sooners.

"You wish you could do more," Courtney said. "You get so close, and I wanted to help this program win a national championship. Beyond losing this game, we don't get to come back tomorrow. This is it for me. I'm just going to miss the experience."

But basketball still stretches out before both twins, who will go to Secaucus, N.J., for Thursday's WNBA draft. Ashley, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds Sunday, has reshaped her body and built her confidence this season, and now she seems likely to be picked in the first round along with her sister.

"I am fortunate I don't have the injuries that a lot of seniors have, or any aches and pains," Ashley said. "I was able to lose weight this summer, so I feel fresh and ready for what's next. Hopefully, I'll continue to play basketball, because I feel I still have a lot of potential."

So, in fact, do the Sooners as a program. The visibility of making a Final Four is always a key for recruiting, and Coale and her staff will look to make the most of that. Other than the Paris twins, Oklahoma returns the rest of its starters, and all of its bench save little-used reserve Carolyn Winchester.

The 2002 Sooners team that made the Final Four was very guard-oriented, and that's the type of squad OU looks to be next year, too, led by Danielle Robinson and Whitney Hand.

"It's hard because we lose two players who are so good, and who I've gotten so close to," said Hand, a freshman. "Right now it feels like the end of the world, but we're going to get back to work."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.