8:00 PM ET, February 18, 2006
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Winning the Big 12 Conference was a big deal for No. 9 Oklahoma, even if its celebration was somewhat subdued.The Sooners clinched their first regular-season league title in four years, beating Texas A&M (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) 73-54 Saturday night for their 11th straight victory.Courtney Paris had 15 points and 14 rebounds for Oklahoma (23-4, 13-0), seeking to become the first Big 12 women's team to go undefeated in conference play. The Sooners' remaining schedule includes road games at Kansas State and Texas Tech sandwiched around a home game against Nebraska.The conference title is the fifth for the Sooners, who also won the Big 8 in 1986 and the Big 12 in 2000, '01 and '02 -- the last when they finished as the national runner-up. Oklahoma's last double-digit winning streak came in 2002, when the Sooners won 10 straight before losing to Connecticut in the 2002 national championship game."I'm really proud of this team and what we've accomplished," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "Securing a Big 12 championship with games yet to be played is a pretty special accomplishment and we're not taking it for granted for one single second. We're just not going to celebrate it with all the euphoria yet, because there's so much out there still that we can do."That attitude was evident during Oklahoma's postgame celebration. There was no net-cutting or confetti falling from the rafters. Instead, the Sooners simply gathered at midcourt, waved to the crowd of about 9,500 that came to the Lloyd Noble Center on an icy night, and held up their index fingers during a singing of their alma mater."With every win, you get a little bit more greedy," said junior forward Leah Rush, who scored 14 points. "You know, we're this far, so let's go ahead and finish it all the way. I don't think we're taking for granted that we won the Big 12. It's a great conference and we're proud of that. But at the same time, we're not done. We want to finish it right."Texas A&M, ranked for the first time since the end of the 1996 season when it was in the Southwest Conference, lost its second straight game -- both against top-15 foes. The Aggies, who lost to No. 12 Baylor earlier in the week, now have dropped 11 straight games at Oklahoma."When they had a chance to win a conference championship, they responded. Give them credit," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said of the Sooners.Oklahoma never trailed, but Texas A&M (19-7, 8-5) pulled even at 37-all with 15:37 left. Britney Brown then keyed an 11-4 Oklahoma run with two 3-pointers and an assist on a bucket by Paris."This team has such a collective poise," Coale said, "their sense of urgency escalted at that point (when A&M tied the game)."The Sooners eventually pushed their lead to 12 points before Texas A&M rallied to within 59-52 with 3:43 left. However, Oklahoma scored the next nine points to seal the win. The margin of victory was the Sooners' largest lead."I was disappointed with how we finished the game," Blair said, "because we've got a huge week coming up in front of us, with Texas coming on and Iowa State, and we're trying to finish up what we've started."The Aggies slowed the 6-foot-4 Paris somewhat, running two big defenders at her -- 6-foot-3 LaToya Michaeux and 6-foot-6 Lenka Zimova -- and holding her to her third-lowest point output of the season.Still, Paris recorded her 24th double-double of the season and her 19th in a row, both Big 12 records and tops in NCAA Division I this season. She also had a team-high five assists, frequently passing out of double-teams."That's what a great player will do when she's got the whole package," Blair said.Oklahoma was only 1-for-11 on 3-pointers in the first half but still led 32-28 at the break. The Sooners scored the game's first seven points and led by as many as 12 points before Texas A&M, which had just 14 points in the first 16 minutes, went on a 14-6 run to close the half.Chelsi Welch added 12 points for the Sooners, who committed only 10 turnovers. Morenike Atunrase led the Aggies with 16 points but went just 6-of-16 from the field. Texas A&M shot 36 percent from the field, compared to 45 percent for the Sooners.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press