St. Louis Louisville versus Oklahoma feels like the consolation game of the Women’s Final Four.
Good reason. Both semifinalists have been drubbed by top-ranked Connecticut. Twice in the Cardinals’ case.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz, whose team lost by 28 and 39 points, joked that it was all part of the plan to lull the unbeaten Huskies into a false sense of security. Of course, the Cardinals first have to win the opener tonight, and then Connecticut (37-0) would have to get past Stanford (33-4) in the second semifinal.
“I think we did a great job,” Walz said. “Obviously, if we play them they’re way overconfident.”
Oklahoma’s Sherri Coale, on the wrong end of a 28-point blowout at Storrs, Conn., in late November, bristled a bit at the notion that it’s the Huskies’ tournament to lose.
“I think it’s a great Final Four,” Coale said. “I think it’s a fans’ paradise, and I think there will be two really good games on Sunday, and another really good one on Tuesday.”
Led by double-double machine Courtney Paris, Oklahoma (32-4) is a legitimate title contender heading into its first-ever meeting against Louisville. Coale prepped the Big 12 champions for their second Final Four appearance with a visit to the city in late December.
Although the Sooners’ victory over Saint Louis came at a different arena, Coale thought it helped set the tone for the expectations. Oklahoma played in San Antonio before its runner-up finish in the 2002 Final Four.
“We thought it was important to try to go to the Final Four city, to plant some seeds, to have the experience,” Coale said. “It sort of crystallizes things and makes it a little bit more real.”
With the toughest schedule in the nation, Oklahoma had a dominating player to lead the way in the 6-foot-4 Paris, the school’s first four-time AP All-American. She has 127 career double-doubles, including a streak of 112 straight that was snapped this season.
Courtney Paris certainly does not lack for confidence, promising on Senior Night to pay back the $75,000-plus cost of her four-year scholarship if Oklahoma doesn’t win the national title.
“It was about motivating them, letting them know I 100 percent believe in them,” Paris said. “It’s not something I would say to a team I didn’t think could do it already.”
Louisville is likely to double-team Courtney Paris. Walz said he’d “throw a lot of players at her.”
OU has balance, too, with driving point guard Danielle Robinson averaging 13.1 points, and Whitney Hand and Nyeshia Stevenson presenting threats from long range.