No. 1 Oklahoma acting like an underdog

BY JEFF PAWOLA | MARCH 24, 2009 7:30 AM

A powerhouse on most accounts, top-seeded Oklahoma feels it has a lot to prove.

Two of this year’s No. 1 seeds have never won a national championship, the Sooners and Duke, making the 2009 tourney important for both teams, especially Oklahoma — Maryland won in 2006 and Connecticut in 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Oklahoma senior All-American Courtney Paris previously has said she would repay her scholarship if this year’s team does not win the national championship. The former National Player of the Year said the university brought her in to win a championship, and if she could not live up to the expectations, then it would not be right for her to keep the scholarship.

“We’re going to win a national championship,” Paris told the Tulsa World following the Sooners’ 61-49 win over Texas Tech on March 4. “We’re going to win one. And if we don’t, I will pay back my scholarship.

“I feel that strongly about it. The university has given me so much that I want to give back. If I can’t do it with the national championship I promised, I’ll pay back my scholarship because I haven’t earned it. I’ve thought about this for a couple of years.”

Paris’ performance on Sunday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena showed just how serious she was; she scored 11 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, and blocked four shots in the Sooners’ 76-47 victory over No. 16 seed Prairie View A&M. The double-double was her 126th of her career, the most ever in NCAA women’s basketball history.

Despite the 29-point victory, it matched the lowest margin of victory of No. 1 seeds in this years field — Duke won by 41 over Austin Peay, Connecticut by 39 over Vermont, and Maryland over Dartmouth by 29.

The Sooners led by only eight points early in the second half before pulling away, and Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale credited the Southwestern Conference champions.

“They are one of the best 16 seeds in the tournament this year,” she said. “[I] have a lot of respect for how they competed and the way they performed [Sunday].”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Prairie View head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke gave Oklahoma comparable respect.

“I would definitely say that any team that runs up against Oklahoma will have its work cut out for it,” she said. “I don’t know if they’re the best, but they wouldn’t have been one of the No. 1 seeds if they weren’t one of the best.”

A true test for Oklahoma in determining if it is championship material will be tonight, when the Sooners face off against No. 9 seed Georgia Tech — not only because the Yellow Jackets come from the ACC and breezed past No. 8 Iowa in the first round but because they have played against every No. 1 seed in the tournament.

The Ramblin’ Wreck are 0-3 against the other No. 1’s — they lost, 82-71, to Connecticut on Nov. 16, 60-34 against Duke on Jan. 25, and 87-79 against Maryland on Feb. 19.

“We went and play UConn the second game of the schedule in front of 10,000 fans,” Georgia Tech head coach Machelle Joseph said. “Now, we get to play the fourth No. 1 seed.”

Not only does Oklahoma need to win in order to continue its pursuit of a national championship, but it needs to win convincingly in order to prove to the rest of the country it can win the title.

“We will begin immediately by looking at what we did well and what we need to do better,” Coale said. “We talked about it for about five minutes, and then it’s over. For now, our focus is on [Georgia Tech].”

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