2:00 PM ET, February 26, 2006
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- With one game left, No. 9 Oklahoma finally took time to revel in its Big 12 conference championship.After pulling away in the second half of a 73-45 win against Nebraska on Sunday, the Sooners celebrated the regular-season title they secured a week ago with little fanfare.Erin Higgins scored 17 points and Courtney Paris recorded her 21st double-double in a row with 15 points and 13 rebounds to lead the way in Oklahoma's 13th straight win.Unsure what to do when her team was nitpicking its mistakes instead of enjoying a 14-0 Big 12 start, Sooners coach Sherri Coale went to a colleague, football coach Bob Stoops, for pointers.Coale said Stoops, who's had three undefeated regular seasons at Oklahoma, told her that "sometimes you need to stop in the middle of a winning streak and remind them how much fun it is."After this win, the Sooners dropped red and white balloons from the rafters and cut down the nets during a celebration that merged with the final home game for seniors Beky Preston and Laura Andrews.The sellout crowd chanted "Big 12 Champs!" as players donned T-shirts and caps touting their title and hoisted the conference championship trophy."I think they had a ball tonight. I do. I think they enjoyed it from start to finish, and that's exactly what you would hope senior day would be like and exactly how you would hope to close out a conference stretch," Coale said."We have one more game to go, obviously, and that's a big one. There'll be similar pandemonium there, I suppose. But to close it out this way at home I think is so appropriate," she said.The Sooners close the regular season on Wednesday when they play at Texas Tech. The game will be Marsha Sharp's last as coach of the Red Raiders as well as senior day.Paris said Oklahoma's veterans -- who won their first Big 12 regular-season title -- didn't give younger players much chance to touch the trophy. It's Oklahoma's first regular-season title since a string of three in a row from 2000 to 2002."No trophy can sum up the feeling you get from what we've been through this year and what we've been able to accomplish," Paris said.Chelsi Welch hit a jumper and a runner, Paris scored three points and Leah Rush added a 3-pointer from the top of the key as Oklahoma (25-4, 15-0) opened the second half with a 10-0 run to take a 45-25 lead.Higgins and Andrews then made consecutive 3-pointers from the left wing to stretch the lead to 56-32, and Nebraska (15-11, 7-8) was never back within 20. The Cornhuskers' three-game win streak was snapped.Higgins was 5-of-7 from 3-point range to boost her record for the most 3-pointers in Oklahoma history. With her fifth attempt, the junior passed Etta Maytubby for the most attempts ever by a Sooners player.Paris, who had five blocks, also played a role in keeping Nebraska's leading scorer, Keira Hardy, at bay. The 5-foot-6 point guard, who was averaging 17.1 points, got in early foul trouble while defending Paris and scored 10 to lead the Cornhuskers."This is probably one of those games where I thought less about my numbers and less about my game. It was emotional," Paris said. "Our seniors have meant so much to me. It was so hard, but so much fun to come out and play for them."Paris, whose 26 double-doubles are the most in NCAA Division I, became the first Big 12 player ever to score 600 points and have 400 rebounds in a season. She left the game with 6:43 remaining, high-fiving her teammates on her way to the bench."I think they're a great offensive team. They're just really difficult to guard," Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. "It starts with Courtney, but Courtney's got shooters around her and she's been unselfish and passed the ball so well. I just think they're very very sound offensively."I expect them to make a deep, deep run in the NCAA Tournament. I just think they have all the things that you want in an NCAA Tournament team," Yori said.The Cornhuskers scored seven straight points to take a 16-10 lead on Jessica Gerhart's jumper from the left wing. But Higgins hit two 3-pointers to key a 14-0 run.After Nebraska pulled to within 24-20 on T.K. LaFleur's jumper from the right wing, the Sooners reeled off nine straight points and took a 35-25 lead into halftime.After making seven of their first 10 shots, Nebraska went 2-for-29 as Oklahoma pulled away.
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Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||17-61 (.279)||29-65 (.446)|
|3P Made-Attempted||1-12 (.083)||9-17 (.529)|
|FT Made-Attempted||10-13 (.769)||6-14 (.429)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||13 (0/0)||15 (0/0)|