COLUMBIA — The Oklahoma Sooners women’s basketball team has star power.
Sophomore Obi Olajuwon is the daughter of NBA legend and two-time NBA Champion center Hakeem Olajuwon. Freshman Carlee Roethlisberger is the younger sister of Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Freshman Danielle Robinson is one of the best freshman in the country. And then there are the Paris sisters.
Junior forwards from Piedmont, Calif., Ashley and Courtney Paris have been tearing up the Big 12 since they came to Norman three years ago. Ashley Paris is a strong role player. She came off the bench most of her first two seasons, averaging about seven points and seven rebounds per game in a supporting role. With increased playing time, the 6-foot-3 post has steadily increased her production this year, scoring 11.7 points and grabbing 7.1 boards per contest. As good as Ashley Paris has been, her numbers pale in comparison to her sister.
Courtney Paris already owns 10 NCAA records. She was a consensus first-team All-American as both a freshman and a sophomore. She continues to lead the country in a bevy of important offensive and defensive categories such as rebounding and blocked shots.
She is currently fourth in the Big 12 at 16.2 points per game, and easily leading the country with 15.2 rebounds per game. Coaches and players alike have combed through videotapes and playbooks to come up with a solution for Courtney Paris, but it’s almost always to no avail.
“It’s funny because I’ve watched almost all of their games, and everybody tried different things,” said Missouri coach Cindy Stein. “The things that were most successful, other people have tried since then, and they can’t get away with it anymore. Everybody has tried everything.”
It doesn’t mean that Stein hasn’t come up with her own plans for stopping Courtney Paris.
“She’s going to dominate if you play one-on-one, so we’ll have to trap,” Stein said. “We’ll have to look for the best opportunities for that to happen. You have to throw some full-court stuff if possible to see if you can get some freebies off those.”
Last year, Stein couldn’t figure out how to control Courtney Paris. She scored 33 points and 21 rebounds in a runaway 72-57 Sooners victory. But with Ashley Paris, Robinson, and others waiting in the wings, playing Oklahoma is a Catch-22 for any coach.
“But the great thing about Oklahoma is there are so many great players. You can’t just concentrate on her,” Stein said. “They have one of the best freshman in the conference and in the country in Danielle Robinson. (Jenna) Plumley is a great shooter. There’s just so many other weapons. If you get so concentrated on CP, then Ashley Paris will score 30, so as I told our team, it’s a great challenge.”
Missouri, on the other hand, has neither the talent nor the experience of a player like Courtney Paris. Of the Tiger post players who will be playing the Parises, only sophomore Marissa Scott isn’t in her first year of collegiate basketball. Nicole Wilson, the former MU volleyball star, has been getting increased playing time over the last few weeks, but is still new to the rigors of Big 12 basketball. Shakara Jones has also stepped up her game recently, but is still a freshman learning what it takes to contend on a nightly basis.
Despite their collective lack of experience and size, Scott thinks a determined attitude will go a long way in keeping the Sooners in check.
“We can’t give up no matter how much she scores. We can’t let her put back her own boards,” she said. “We have to continue to play, to not let both of them get us down.
“It’ll be a good test for us. Obviously, they’re bigger than we are, but if we play how we did against Nebraska, then we should be able to stop them somewhat.”
To prepare, the Tigers utilized more male practice players than in a normal week. Playing against faster, taller and stronger players is the best representation of the Paris sisters, considering Missouri’s tallest player is the 6-foot-2 Jones. And beyond their height, the twins intially shocked opponents with their nimble moves around the hoop for girls that size.
“They really are agile posts,” Jones said. “They aren’t just going to stand there. They’re going to move and get open.”
Jones, in her own right, has blossomed throughout the first half of the conference season, scoring in double digits in five of the last six games to raise her averages to 12 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
“I think Shak just works her tail off,” Stein said of her star freshman. “She works so hard, she watches her film, she is very coachable, and she never quits trying. She has a positive mentality about everything.
“She’s a kid who’s never satisfied with her own game.”
Jones has spoken many times this year about how much of a learning experience her freshman season has been. She also discussed how much she relished the chance to play against a player along the lines of Courtney Paris, and she gets her first attempt on Wednesday night.
“I think I’ve developed in every game something different,” Jones said. “I’m learning something from each game, so I try to take what I’ve learned to every other game that we play.”