<
>

No. 9 Oklahoma clinches Big 12 with win over A&M

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.