<
>

Paris leads No. 8 Sooners into Big 12 finals

DALLAS (AP) -- Oklahoma didn't need any late heroics this time.

One night after rallying in the final minute to beat
ninth-seeded Iowa State, No. 8 Oklahoma opened with a 13-0 run and
cruised to its 16th straight victory by beating Missouri 75-54 in
the Big 12 tournament semifinals.

Oklahoma (28-4) jumped on Missouri from the opening tip and led
46-17 at halftime.

"I think we'll be able to do a lot of special things if we're
able to play like that," said Oklahoma center Courtney Paris, who
had 17 points and 10 rebounds. "That's fun when everything is
going well."

The Sooners, who were the first team to go undefeated in Big 12
play, won their 18th straight conference game and will play No. 10
Baylor, a 53-52 victor over Texas A&M (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today; No. 22 AP), in the championship
game Saturday night.

Oklahoma's Erin Higgins added 12 points, Chelsi Welch had 11 and
Ashley Paris chipped in with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The Sooners clipped the Cyclones 78-74 on Wednesday, but needed
no late drama as they shot 59 percent in the first half.

"That was probably the best first half we played all season,"
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.

Paris was coming off a tournament-record 36 points against Iowa
State, and Missouri double-teamed the 6-foot-4 freshman center in
the post early. But Oklahoma took advantage of Missouri's defense
by hitting its first four 3-pointers and were 6-of-9 from long
range in the first half.

"The main thing was we went inside early." said Higgins, who
hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 49 seconds left Wednesday against
Iowa State. "When we can do that and get our 3s going, we're going
to be pretty hard to guard."

Missouri (21-9) was playing in its first Big 12 tourney
semifinal game.

Tiffany Brooks scored 24 points for the Tigers. LaToya Bond,
Missouri's top scorer at nearly 18 points a game, didn't score in
the first 30 minutes and was held to six points on 1-of-5 shooting.

Missouri shot only 23 percent in the first half and finished
19-of-66 from the floor (29 percent).

"If they came out and didn't play well and we were still that
far behind, I would be disappointed." Missouri coach Cindy Stein
said. "It's not how bad we were, but how good they are."

Missouri missed its first six shots and turned the ball over
twice before Brooks hit a short jumper with 14:37 left in the half
to give the Tigers their first points.

Kendra Moore ended the first half with a steal and a layup just
before the buzzer sounded to put Oklahoma ahead by 29.

"We wish we could have started all over," Bond said. "We just
got off to a bad start."

The Tigers called three timeouts in the game's first 10 minutes
to try and slow Oklahoma's momentum. But it didn't help as the
Sooners kept building their lead before pulling their starters
midway through the second half.

The Sooners led by as many as 35 in the second half.