On This Date in OU Hoops History: Enduring Heartbreak to Danny and the Miracles
John. E. Hoover
Oklahoma’s 2020 college basketball season came to an unceremonious and premature end when the NCAA declared this year’s tournament would not be played due to measures intended to stop the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Sooners just might have assembled the kind of team — a Big Three scoring triumvirate and a collection of young, athletic talent — that could have possibly made a good postseason run.
This team’s resume will always be incomplete.
Instead of using three weeks this spring to witness OU basketball history, SI Sooners has relived it.
April 4 was supposed to be the date of this year’s Final Four semifinals.
Instead, we conclude our three-week look at Oklahoma’s greatest postseason games with one of the most unforgettable upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
APRIL 4, 1988
(6) KANSAS 83, (1) OU 79
It might be the single greatest heartbreak in the long, colorful history of Sooner Nation.
Perhaps every bit as much as any of Barry Switzer’s close calls or any of Bob Stoops’ runner-up finishes, Oklahoma’s stunning basketball loss to Kansas in the 1988 national championship game still stings Sooner Nation more than three decades later.
“Danny and the Miracles” pulled off the impossible, a 6-seed, an 11-loss team, taking down one of college basketball’s most prolific dynamos on the game’s biggest stage with an 83-79 victory.
Manning, the 6-foot-11 Big Eight Conference Player of the Year, had 31 points and career-high 18 rebounds as 27-11 KU outlasted the 35-4 Sooners at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.
It remains the most losses ever by an NCAA champion.
Manning’s biggest points came in the final minutes at the free throw line, when he swished two free throws with 14 seconds left and two more with five seconds to play.
OU had beaten Kansas twice during the regular season, both by eight points.
But the title game would be different.
Brown said afterward that he wanted to slow down the Sooners’ frenetic tempo, “but the kids wouldn't listen.”
Instead, the Jayhawks shockingly matched high-scoring OU bucket-for-bucket in the first half. Kansas shot 71 percent in the first half and Brown said he “thought we were in trouble.”
Brown implored his players at halftime to slow it down. When they did, Brown knew Billy Tubbs and the Sooners might be in trouble.
“Finally, we got the tempo to where we wanted it,” Brown said. “We used the clock. … "I kept telling the kids, 'If we get it to the last five minutes, we have a chance,' That's because we have the best player I've been associated with and that he'd lead us."
Manning was unparalleled. On a night the Jayhawks needed him to be the best player in the nation, he was.
All five OU starters scored in double figures, but Tubbs only played six players.
This night really wasn’t about what Oklahoma did wrong. It was more about Kansas overcoming steep odds.
During the year, KU hit a rough stretch, losing 8-of-10. But the Jayhawks figured things out and won nine of their last 11 to get into the tournament.
After playing OU’s game in the first half and perhaps lulling the Sooners into a false sense of comfort, they played a much more deliberate pace in the second half, taking each possession to the final seconds and even beating the shot clock numerous times.
That frustrated an Oklahoma defense accustomed to creating havoc and converting turnovers into easy points.
OU built a five-point lead in the second half, but Kansas quickly tied it at 65 on back-to-back possessions that included a three-point play from Manning.
After KU tied it again at 71, the Jayhawks reeled off six unanswered points. With their indomitable scoring acumen (102 points per game) rendered inconsistent and importance mounting on each possession, doubt began to set in that the Sooners were a team of destiny.
KU made just 1-of-5 free throws to allow the Sooners to get within 78-77, but Manning finished it with free throws. After a Ricky Grace layup cut it to 81-79, Manning confidently stepped to the free throw line once more and thought, “It’s over.”
Dave Sieger led the Sooners with 22 points, including two NCAA Tournament records: seven 3-pointers on 13 attempts.
All-American Stacey King had 17 points and seven rebounds, and Mookie Blaylock and Harvey Grant each scored 14. Blaylock also had a tournament-record seven steals. Grace scored 12.
Kansas committed 23 turnovers, but also shot 64 percent.
“People said we were lucky,” Manning said. “This wasn’t a gift. What’s luck? It’s preparation and opportunity.”
Brown, however, clarified he didn’t feel exactly the same way.
“This was an upset,” he said. “They have the finest team in the country. I didn’t see anybody picking us.”
That’s because OU was an 8-point favorite.
Blaylock, the Big Eight Newcomer of the Year, set an NCAA record with 150 steals that season. King’s 103 blocks and Blaylock’s 150 steals are still the program standards.
Tubbs’ team set school records that still stand today: wins (35), points per game (102.9), rebounds (1,658), field goals (1,533), 3-point field goals (299), assists (862) and steals (486).
Oklahoma went over 100 points 20 times in 1988, including three over 150 points. The Sooners also recorded 26 double-digit victories on the season, 12 by 30 points or more, including five 50-point blowouts.
Perhaps the reason this game continues to resonate with OU fans so many years later is because Switzer’s 1987 Sooners, ranked No. 1 and undefeated on the season, lost an Orange Bowl showdown with Miami for the national championship only three months earlier.
A national championship in basketball would have been salve to that wound, and it might have pushed Sooner hoops closer to allowing OU to attain the rarest echelons in major college sports: both a basketball and a football school.
To get the latest OU posts as they happen, join the SI Sooners Community by clicking “Follow” at the top right corner of the page (mobile users can click the notifications bell icon), and follow SI Sooners on Twitter @All_Sooners.