Sooners seek scoring from another Paris

Tuesday, October 24th 2006, 9:59 pm

By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Running through an offensive set one day in practice, Oklahoma women's basketball coach Sherri Coale turned to Ashley Paris and asked her what her first option would be when she caught the ball.

The immediate response: ``Throw it to Courtney.''

Getting the ball to her All-America twin sister, Courtney Paris, sure turned out to be a terrific option over and over again last season. But what Coale wants Ashley to do this season is think of herself as a threat too.

``It might be the No. 1 option to throw it to Courtney sometimes,'' Ashley Paris said Tuesday at Oklahoma's media day. ``My whole deal is facing up and not making that the only option.''

Ashley played in all 36 of Oklahoma's games and averaged 5.9 points and 6.7 rebounds but couldn't help but be overshadowed by her sister.

After a stellar high school career, Courtney burst onto the national scene last season by setting an NCAA record with 539 rebounds and becoming the first woman ever selected to The Associated Press' All-America first team as a freshman. Her 21.9-point average was also a school record.

``I guess you could say I'm pretty unselfish,'' Ashley said. ``Courtney's pretty dominant at the college level and I had most of that during high school. Turn around and throw it to her. Me tossing it to her, it became habit.

``I'm working to look to score more and be more aggressive on offense.''

Coale has called Ashley the most improved player for the Sooners, who made it to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament last season. The two main reasons: better footwork and a more aggressive approach.

``I think more so this year, she's thinking, `I'm going to score. I'm going to the basket. I'm going to be aggressive.' She has to do that because not only can she do that, but then that helps Courtney too,'' Coale said.

``I think she's figuring out that there are lots of things that she can do and that she can make a difference on both ends of the floor.''

One part of Ashley's motivation this summer was just missing out on the chance to play on the U.S. under-20 team with her sister. She was among the finalists but was cut from the team, which went on to win gold. Ashley said U.S. coaches told her to watch how other prominent post players approach the game and look for ways to improve.

``I was really impressed and proud to see how much time she spent over the summer to get better. The biggest thing for her is confidence, and I think that's where it starts,'' Courtney said. ``She's really grasped confidence that she can be a great player in college and now she's putting in the work for that to happen.''

Coale said she can't motivate Ashley with comparisons to her All-America sister. Instead, she has to tell her what she can do to help the team.

``She's almost selfless to a fault sometimes on the basketball floor,'' Coale said. ``We're trying to get her on that fine line that you have to balance upon, and she's moving toward it.''

And really, Coale doesn't even want Ashley to become the next version of her sister. She considers Ashley a ``prototype high post'' who can play in the pivot while Courtney dominates the low post.

``I think their styles complement one another,'' Coale said. ``If they were exactly alike, I'm not sure that they could play alongside of each other the way I think they're going to be able to.''

The next step is taking her success from the high school level _ where the twins led Piedmont High School to back-to-back California state titles _ and converting it to college. Ashley averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds as a senior at Piedmont.

``I feel like she's always been good. She was an All-American in high school. She can play,'' Courtney said. ``She's always been able to score, she's always been able to rebound and now it's just a matter of not thinking about it and just doing it.''

To Coale, it all comes back to Ashley's mentality.

``Ashley hopes she can score and Courtney knows she can score. We've been working on turning hope into a belief and after you believe, then you know. ... She's just got to have a few good games under her belt where she has those performances that we know she's capable of to feel that belief and take it to a whole new level.''

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