WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Courtney Paris was heavily guarded, so Oklahoma depended on her twin sister and the rest of her teammates to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Ashley Paris scored 13 points, Courtney Paris managed 12 points and 12 rebounds and the Sooners beat 13th-seeded Illinois State 69-61 on Sunday in the first round of the Oklahoma City regional.
With the Redbirds sometimes assigning three players to guard Oklahoma’s leading scorer, Courtney Paris’ teammates picked up the slack. Danielle Robinson and Rose Hammond both scored 12 points, and Amanda Thompson had nine points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals for fourth-seeded Oklahoma (22-8).
“I was going to have someone else take the crucial shots for our team,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
After unsuccessfully trying to get Courtney Paris involved early, Coale decided to use the 6-foot-4 power forward as a decoy by pulling her away from the basket to create driving lanes. Courtney Paris only took five shots.
“We moved her so we could at least have the basket as an option,” Coale said.
The Sooners hung on after watching a 17-point second-half lead get whittled to three points in the final minutes. A three-point play by Illinois State’s Tiffany Hudson made it 61-57 with 2:43 to go, and Hudson made the second of two free throws to make it 61-58 with just over two minutes left.
Oklahoma guard Jenna Plumley hit four of four free throws in the final minute to keep the Sooners in control.
“Jenna’s a terrific free-throw shooter,” Coale said. “I don’t even watch. I just know that 90 percent of the time, they’re both going in.”
Oklahoma, which snapped a three-game losing streak, will play Notre Dame on Tuesday. The Fighting Irish beat Southern Methodist 75-62.
Illinois State coach Robin Pingeton said she liked the way her team defended Courtney Paris.
“She’s just such a tremendous player,” Pingeton said. “We knew we couldn’t shut her out. We just tried to contain her. We just tried to body her every possession. I felt we had some players with the size and thickness to maybe wear on her.”
Pingeton knew it would be tough to handle the Paris twins.
“Both her (Courtney) and her sister are so strong and so explosive,” Pingeton said. “Just great hands and great touch around the basket. We felt we were going to battle them from the inside out and battle them every possession. I thought we did a good job.”
Kristi Cirone led Illinois State (26-7) with 22 points, and Shala Jackson added 17. The Redbirds had won four straight, including three to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
The Redbirds led for much of the first half, but Thompson hit a jumper from just inside the arc in the closing seconds to give the Sooners a 31-29 lead at the break. The Sooners shot just 38 percent in the first half, but forced 13 turnovers to stay in the game. There were five ties and eight lead changes in the first 20 minutes.
The Paris twins each scored a basket early in the second half to give the Sooners a 35-29 lead and force the Redbirds to call timeout.
Courtney Paris scored again, then Thompson blocked a 3-pointer, got the rebound and went in for a layup that gave Oklahoma a 39-29 lead. A layup by Robinson made it a 12-point advantage and forced another Illinois State timeout.
Jackson’s layup with 15:26 to play accounted for Illinois State’s first points of the second half, but the Sooners still led 44-31.
“We haven’t played against defense like that all year long,” Pingeton said. “They’re very athletic kids. That wore on us as time went on.”