Pitt Women: All-American Paris center of attention
Pitt's coach Agnus Berenato talks to Kate Popovec, left, and Pepper Wilson, right, during practice in Oklahoma City, Saturday.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Pitt women's basketball is hoping to get to the Elite 8 for the first time in school history but in order to do that, the Panthers understand they'll have to find a way to overcome a large and often immovable object in the center of Oklahoma's lineup.
That's because not only is 6-foot-3 senior Courtney Paris the most dominant post player in Division I, she is such a force and commands so much attention that she often frees things up her teammates.
The good news for Pitt, though, is that unlike a lot of other teams, the Panthers have enough size and depth in the frontcourt to at least make Paris work hard for everything she gets.
How well the Panthers fare in their quest to neutralize Paris tonight when the teams meet in a Sweet 16 matchup at the Ford Center probably will go a long way toward determining the outcome.
"I think one key is we have to keep trying to stay in front of her because if she catches the ball and we are behind her, we're in big trouble as she is very good at scoring in the post and has great footwork," said Pitt reserve center Chelsea Cole, a 6-3 sophomore and perhaps the Panthers' best post defender.
"She is always going to get hers, so it is our job to just try and slow her down and work a little bit, and we have to play her tough because we know she is coming to bang. But I think one thing that is in our favor is we have a lot of fresh bodies to keep rotating in and out of the game, so we can just keep running and hopefully wear her down a little bit."
Pepper Wilson, a 6-6 freshman, will start for the Panthers at center, but Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said that she's not asking Wilson to match Paris. Berenato said she will use a combination of Wilson, Cole, Selena Nwude (6-5) and even freshman Kate Popovec (6-3) if need be.
"Courtney Paris is an All-American and averaging 16 [points] and 14 [rebounds], and Courtney has a twin sister that's her sidekick, and she is playing at home," Berenato said. "Pepper Wilson is a freshman and she doesn't have a sister that's a sidekick, so what is there to talk about? I think that Courtney is really good. I like Pepper, she is a freshman, she is learning, getting better every single game and that's what we ask from her.
"[Pepper] hasn't played against Courtney Paris yet, but I don't think it's a Courtney Paris show, it's her team against our team."
Paris, the team's leading scorer and rebounder (16 ppg, 13.7 rpg), said she has played against a lot of good teams with strong players, so the Panthers' size won't be much of a factor, though, she admitted she really didn't know just how big the Panthers were until she walked past them in the hallway at the Ford Center yesterday before practice.
"I definitely won't have any choice [but to play big] tomorrow," Paris said. "We were walking by 'em in the hall and they're bigger and taller than I thought they were, but we have that size in our league. Kansas has a really tall girl so we're used to that stuff."
Oklahoma coach Sheri Coale also was caught by surprise by how tall the Panthers were, from their post players and even some of their guards, but she said size won't bother Paris because she is a really physical force under the basket.
"We just passed by the Pitt team stretching in the hallway and seriously, they're huge," Coale said. "You watch them on film and you see that they have interior size, but walking past them in the hallway caught my attention. They're powerful, they know how to own the paint and guard their area."
First Published March 29, 2009 12:00 am