Lyles holds her own while Paris wants to snare bigger prize for OU

Sunday, March 18, 2007
Southeast Missouri State's Lachelle Lyles swallowed up a rebound between Oklahoma's Leah Rush, left, and Courtney Paris in the first half Saturday. (Fred Lynch)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Oklahoma All-American center Courtney Paris got her first up-close-and-personal look at the player who will almost certainly prevent Paris from repeating her national rebounding title.

The Sooners' 6-foot-4 mountain of a sophomore center came away impressed.

Lachelle Lyles, Southeast Missouri State's 6-2 senior center, made life tough on Paris -- with plenty of help from double- and triple-teams -- in Saturday's first-round NCAA tournament game.

Matched up with Lyles most of the contest, Paris had her second-lowest-scoring performance of the season as the third-seeded Sooners beat the 14th-seeded Redhawks 74-60.

Paris, averaging 23.6 points and 16.2 rebounds, scored just 13 points, including only three in the first half. Paris attempted 10 field goals -- she made six -- and put up only two first-half shots.

"I think," Paris said, "in the first possession, when she boxed me out, I said 'No wonder this girl leads the nation in rebouding.' She was strong. All their girls were tough. They played a great game."

Paris was able to exend her NCAA record streak of double-doubles to 59 as she pulled down 11 rebounds, with the final two coming in the last 2 minutes.

But after leading the nation last year with an average of 15 rebounds per game -- and setting an NCAA single-season record with 539 rebounds -- Paris is almost certain to finish behind Lyles for the national rebounding title.

Lyles entered Saturday's contest averaging 17.2 rebounds per game, a full rebound ahead of Paris. Lyles had 10 rebounds against the Sooners.

Paris would need to go crazy on the boards the rest of the NCAA tournament to have a shot at catching Lyles' average, which does not seem likely. Lyles exited the game with a 17.0 average; Paris' fell to 16.0.

Paris did not seem very concerned with any individual accomplishments. Her goal is to lead the Sooners -- ranked ninth nationally -- deep into the NCAA tournament.

She credited Lyles and the Redhawks for playing her about as tough as any opponent has this season.

Those 11 rebounds matches Paris' lowest output of the year, and her only lower-scoring game was a 12-point performance.

With considerable attention focused on Paris, other OU players had offensive opportunites. Jenna Plumley and Leah Rush took advantage.

Plumley, a 5-4 freshman point guard only recently inserted into the starting lineup, led the Sooners with 20 points, hitting six of 10 3-pointers.

Rush made three of five 3-pointers and scored 19 points.

"I think they had to prove to us that they could make outside shots," Southeast junior guard Ashley Lovelady said.

The Sooners did, hitting 10 of 17 3-pointers. But Southeast coach John Ishee said he would use the same game plan again.

"You really have no choice when you play a team like Oklahoma," Ishee said. "You don't want one of the best players in America to have a great game and beat you by herself.

"We had to try and force them to make outside shots, and to their credit they did."

Ishee felt the confidence

Ishee had no idea how tough Southeast would play OU, but he said he had a feeling the Redhawks would put forth a strong performance.

"I felt just from their mindset that they were focused, that they would come to compete and play well," Ishee said. "My biggest concern was rust and game wind, because our last game was two weeks ago today."

Before Saturday, the Redhawks' previous contest was March 3 in the championship game of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

Redhawks' iron women

Southeast lacked considerable depth all season, and Ishee used a shorter bench than normal Saturday.

Only six Southeast players saw court time, with the five starters all playing at least 36 minutes.

OU used eight players.

"I think that's just usually the way it is for the lower seeded teams in the NCAA tournament," Ishee said. "You just don't usually go very deep."

Already looking ahead

Lyles was the only Southeast senior who played in Saturday's game, which means the Redhawks should be in good shape for another strong season next year, when they will pursue their third consecutive NCAA tournament berth.

That fact was not lost on Lovelady, one of four Southeast starters who is either a junior or a sophomore. Their showing was a positive step to begin planning for next season.

"I think it just gives us more confidence going into next season, that we can do this again," Lovelady said.

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