ST. LOUIS - Angel McCoughtry answered her coach's harsh halftime criticism with a performance that lifted Louisville into its first national championship game.
McCoughtry scored 14 of her 18 points in the second half and added 11 rebounds, helping the Cardinals crawl out of an early hole to beat Oklahoma 61-59 in a national semifinal last night and end Courtney Paris' All-American career.
"Nobody expected us to be here," McCoughtry said. "We have not one high school All-American on our team, but these girls worked hard. I'm so proud of them."
Down 12 points at halftime, Louisville got back into the game with a 15-1 run while the Sooners' shooting went south - just 26.9 percent in the second half. Still, Oklahoma had a chance to win it in the final seconds with Nyeshia Stevenson's good look on a 3-point attempt, but it rattled out.
"In my head, it was going in," Stevenson said. "I knew I was wide open. I was confident every second."
As was McCoughtry, even after missing her first seven shots of the game, prompting coach Jeff Walz's rebuke.
"I told Angel it was the worst I've seen her play," he said. "She was an embarrassment."
Appearing in their first trip to the Final Four, McCoughtry and her teammates got their nerves under control in the second half to take control of the game.
Keshia Hines added 10 rebounds and nine points for the Cardinals (34-4), who'll face unbeaten and top-ranked Connecticut in tomorrow's final.
Out too soon, four-time All-American Paris now must fulfill her promise to pay back the cost of her four-year scholarship if the
Sooners failed to win the title. She left the court in tears after exchanging hugs with McCoughtry and huddling with her team for a final time.
"I do make good on the guarantee," said Paris, whose father is former NFL offensive lineman Bubba Paris. "Not today, though. Obviously, I don't have $64,000 waiting."
Paris goes home without ever playing in a national championship game.
In fact, this was her first trip to the Final Four. Still, her name dots the record book. She is the NCAA's best rebounder of all time and the first player to block at least 100 shots in each of her four years in college.
True to her consistent play, Paris finished with another double-double - 14 points and 16 rebounds. Her NCAA-record double-double streak ended at 112 games on Feb. 2, finishing an unbelievable run that started in December of her freshman year.
One more game, and Connecticut has the perfect finish.
All those others who would stand in their way? They're not even close.
Renee Montgomery scored 26 points, Maya Moore added 24, and unbeaten UConn cruised to its first title game in five years with an easy victory over Stanford.
The outcome never in doubt, Connecticut overwhelmed and dismantled Stanford, crushing the latest challenger to the Huskies' bid for a third undefeated season and sixth national championship.
UConn (38-0) will face Louisville for the title tomorrow night, setting up the first all-Big East final in NCAA women's basketball history.
Jayne Appel scored 26 points to lead Stanford (33-5), but she had little help.