3-10-07 Leah Rush can emerge from Courtney Paris' shadow when she has to -- especially in tournament time. The versatile senior forward matched her season-high with 18 points and No. 11 Oklahoma used a series of big runs to surge past a resilient Iowa State team for a 67-60 victory in the Big 12 championship Saturday night.
"That's the way Leah Rush plays in the postseason," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "We've become accustomed to that."
When All-America center Paris and her twin sister stepped on Oklahoma's campus, it meant that Rush had to move over and make room. But when the Sooners needed a boost to win their second straight conference championship, Rush showed she can still come through.
The 6-foot-1 Rush, the team's leading scorer as a sophomore, kept the second-seeded Sooners (26-4) going while Paris fought through poor shooting, then put them in position to pull away late.
"I can do that," Rush said. "I think especially with some of our younger guys, if Courtney's not scoring, what are we going to do?
"I think it's just good for the confidence of the team if we can get a bucket. I think everybody on this team is so capable and we know what we're capable of, and so people have to do what they can do."
Paris ended up with 23 points and 21 rebounds for her 58th straight double-double, but she missed 11 of her first 15 shots -- most of them from right under the basket -- as Oklahoma fell behind after an 11-0 start.
Rush had a jumper and a 3-pointer to finish Oklahoma's second 11-point run of the game and put the Sooners on top 38-35, and backup point guard Kendra Moore added a pair of 3-pointers in a 15-0 surge that allowed them to pull away for a 57-42 lead.
Iowa State (25-8), the Big 12's most prolific team from long distance, got to 57-51 with three straight 3-pointers before Paris answered with back-to-back layups for the Sooners.
Oklahoma was 6-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final minute to seal its eighth straight win. The Sooners exchanged hugs and high-fives at midcourt to celebrate their fourth Big 12 title -- and the third with Rush on the team.
"I love cutting down those nets," said Rush, who emerged with the twine draped around her neck for the team's postgame picture.
Alison Lacey and Lyndsey Medders each scored 17 points to lead fifth-seeded Iowa State, which was trying to match Oklahoma's 2004 run and become the second team to win the title without the benefit of a first-round bye. The Cyclones had an eight-game winning streak snapped.
"We couldn't stop them from scoring," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. "There were too many options."
Oklahoma started with 11 straight points and appeared poised to run away with its second straight Big 12 title. Paris scored from the right block and then found Erin Higgins cutting to the basket for a layup to make it 6-0, and the Sooners' sensational sophomore pointed toward the roof and high-stepped for a moment before heading to the bench for a timeout.
After Paris' basket made it 11-0, crimson-clad Oklahoma fans -- who occupied all but three sections in the Cox Convention Center -- had a chance to sing along as the pep band played "Boomer Sooner."
"No one freaked out at that point," Medders said. "Everyone knew it was about trying to get some scores and getting stops. And that's how this team has played all year long is not giving up."
Medders' driving layup from the left wing cut the deficit to 19-18 as the Sooners missed 12 straight shots in a 6 1/2 -minute drought.
After Paris finally broke through with a layup, Megan Ronhovde nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie it at 21.
The Cyclones led 26-23 at the half after a pair of driving layups by Lacey, including one that led to a three-point play, and then got out quickly in the second half for a 33-25 lead on Toccara Ross' 3-pointer from the left wing.
Rush followed that with a turnaround jumper in the lane, and soon Oklahoma was off on its first of two second-half spurts. Paris, who made her final four shots, credited Rush and Moore with keeping the Sooners in the game until that point.
"That's what this team needs from me," Rush said. "Sometimes I need to score more and sometimes I need to pass more. My role has changed throughout my time here. Every year it's been completely different."
One thing that doesn't change: Rush's favorite time of year is tournament time. And the NCAAs are up next.