Paris trumps Illinois as women’s team folds to Oklahoma, Player of the Year



By Wesley Deberry

Oklahoma center Courtney Paris showed the 1,352 fans in attendance at Assembly Hall why she was the AP National Player of the Year. From the field, Paris shot 10-of-13 scoring 22 points in the game and snagged 14 rebounds as the Oklahoma Sooners defeated the Illini 77-67.

Sooners forward Nyeshia Stevenson scored 11 points off the bench, and guard Danielle Robinson scored 14 points and gave the Illini problems on the offensive side of the ball with seven steals.

The Illini fell back into old habits, turning the ball over 19 times in the game, and Oklahoma was able to generate 10 points off Illini turnovers.

“We lost to a good team tonight.” Illini head coach Jolette Law said. “I’m proud of my team, they worked very hard.”

Illini guard Chelsea Gordon finished the game with 16 points to lead the Illini, followed by center Jenna Smith and forward Danyel Crutcher with 15 points apiece. Smith added eight rebounds in the loss.

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Crutcher was in the Illinois starting lineup for the first time this season. In the first half, Crutcher led the Illini with eight points and ended up finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds.

“I went with my gut and I went with Crutch tonight,” said Law, adding that starting Crutcher made it harder for the Sooners to double up on Smith.

It did not take Smith or Courtney Paris long to make their presence known. Paris quickly put Oklahoma on the board with a first possession basket. And Smith wasted little time putting the Illini on the board with a foul-drawing layup. She converted the free throw and put the Illini up by one point early.

The fight in the paint continued, with Smith and Paris shoving each other underneath.

“Courtney is just very big and very strong.” Smith said. “She is the toughest person I have ever played against in my life.”

With a tie game and just under a minute to play in the first half, Stevenson drained back-to-back three-pointers that sent the Sooners to the locker room with a 29-23 lead.

Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale said Stevenson’s three-pointers changed the dynamic of the game.

It calmed her team down and gave it confidence going into the locker room.

“I feel like there was a little bit of a sense of panic because we were defended different,” Coale said.

The Illini will return to the court at 1:30 p.m. Saturday when they face Chicago State at the United Center in Chicago.