Oklahoma didn't clinch any Big Eight championship or cut down any nets or make any obscene gestures. The big, bad and irrepressibly bold Sooners didn't even win the basketball game. On the other hand, what's so surprising about that? Wasn't this Lawrence, Kans.? Saturday afternoon? The continuing serial or, in this case, cereal of Special K? Wasn't this the time for Ron Kellogg?
Under normal conditions, Kellogg, a wiry 6'5" Kansas junior forward who shoots and sometimes thinks lefthanded, might break an offensive pattern, forget a defense, refuse to pass, lose track of the time, hoard the Cokes and the lemonade and the French fries at team meals and, in the words of his coach, Larry Brown, "live in another world." But on Saturdays he comes to score. On four previous Saturdays this season, Kellogg had padded his average to 18 points per game with 30 against Wichita State, 31 against Colorado, 39 against Nebraska and 34 against Memphis State—even as, in a crucial time-out against the Tigers, he told a bewildered Brown, "Coach, we need to fix the whirlpool."
With the whirlpool patched up last week, Kellogg was ready for another Saturday. On Friday night Special K had the same dream he always has preparatory to these grand occasions, the one in which he's half awake, half asleep, "envisioning myself." And then on Saturday he went and got the key two points on a breakaway dunk that gave the Jayhawks a 73-70 lead over Oklahoma with 1:53 left in the game.
Seven times in the final 13:04 the invading horde of bullyboy Sooners, featuring a frustrated, triple-teamed Wayman Tisdale—who finished with four baskets, nine shots and 17 points, nine fewer than his average—struggled to within a point of Kansas. After four of those forays, it was Kellogg who responded with baskets that gave the Jayhawks daylight. The fourth resulted in the big jam.
Kansas's star freshman, Danny Manning (16 points), had just fouled out, and its steady guard Calvin Thompson was soon to go the same route. Tisdale was hammering away, wearing down his oppressors and making constant treks to the foul line, where he would make only nine of 14 tries. The Jayhawks were desperately hanging on to their pride as well as the lead. An Oklahoma victory not only would have given the 22-4, fourth-ranked Sooners the regular-season Big Eight title but also would have extended their conference record of 24 straight regular-season victories and broken the conference record of 11 road victories. And it would have all but assured an unbeaten league season. In addition, who among the frenzied 15,200 in creaking old Allen Field House could forget the blasphemy of last year, when Oklahoma had celebrated a victory on this very court by cutting down the Kansas nets. The Sooners had added to the humiliation by joining hands at the free-throw line, singing and laughing as the Jayhawks had scored a useless basket; one Oklahoma player allegedly had saluted the crowd with middle finger raised. Déj√† vu was at hand on Saturday.
But then, at 71-70, an Okie miss, a Kansas rebound and Kellogg was racing downcourt all alone waving wildly for the ball. After Jayhawk Cedric Hunter alertly delivered the deep bomb to Kellogg, who went in for his slam, and after Kansas center Greg Dreiling rejected an Oklahoma shot out of bounds and then hit two free throws courtesy of a push from Tisdale, the Jayhawks led by five and suddenly their 82-76 upset was assured. And the only streak still intact was Kellogg's nice crispies—that string of Saturdays to which this uncanny long-range marksman had now added another 34-point effort. He'd made 14 of 19 shots from the field, six of seven from the foul line and seven of his team's final 11 points in the last 1:53.
"That's the best we've played," said Brown, hopeful that Kansas had finally righted itself for the NCAA tournament after a season of ups (a 22-6 record) and downs (a 96-77 embarrassment at Michigan and two recent Big Eight road defeats, which knocked the Jayhawks out of the conference race). At times the 6'11" Manning, a 14.0 scorer, has been spectacular, but he has been constantly in foul trouble, to the tune of six disqualifications, and he is sometimes uncertain on the perimeter where he's most comfortable. His penchant for playing outside also helps to explain Kansas's woeful rebounding. Most significant, the Jayhawks, like the hated Sooners, may still be a few defenders and a point guard shy of the Final Four.
"The point is not our problem," Brown insists, "and Oklahoma is a Final Four team. The Sooners get the ball up so quickly they don't even need a point guard."
The fact that Oklahoma didn't pistol-whip the referees or drag any hostages back to the team bus after the bitter defeat in Lawrence was evidence enough that the Sooners, and especially coach Billy Tubbs, are attempting to change an image that, as recently as early January, caused reviewers to liken them to escapees from a correctional institution. "All I see now is a great team," says Brown. "Tubbs never gets any credit because he acts so wacky. But brilliance in coaching is getting your players to enjoy each other while they play exactly the way you want them to play. That's Oklahoma."
Well, this was Oklahoma: woofing, jiving, taunting, low-fiving. The outspoken Tubbs's troubles have mounted not so much because the Sooners have won but because of how they've won. By running. By firing away. By laughing. With a razzle-dazzle, no-conscience, damn-the-fundamentals attack that was absolutely anathema to a league previously characterized by slowdown, stodgy Ibanization. Why even back when Tubbs came to Norman in 1980 he was cracking lines and cracking heads, in the very state in which Henry Iba invented defense and walk-the-ball. And the things Tubbs has said: "I don't even like defense. Defense is no fun. We want to destroy teams. Shot clock? We wouldn't mind a 10-second clock. I like to see the ball fly. I want to hear the nets pop." He made the Big Eight sit up and take notice of scattershot Billy ball. He forced everybody to run and shoot with him. Currently the Big Eight leads all other conferences in scoring average, and Oklahoma leads the Western world (amateur division) with 91.7 points per game.
In truth, Tubbs has been the most invigorating presence to hit the conference in years. But last season he went from naughty and nice to simply nasty. At Colorado, Tubbs was accused of making obscene gestures, and his team was accused of taunting the crowd and flooding the visitors' locker room by leaving the showers running. Then there was the finger incident at Kansas, and at the next game, against Iowa State, the Oklahoma players showed up wearing mittens. Tubbs further infuriated his Big Eight coaching counterparts by calling them "robots and phonies." This season he announced he would turn his players loose on crowds following victories. "I have told them, 'The crowd belongs to you. Take 'em. Go get 'em.'... We don't mind pointing at the scoreboard. Why would we want to do anything nice?"
Tubbs has punished this year's opponents by leaving his first string on the floor in blowouts and running up scores. He has described one officiating crew as "Frank, Jesse and Curly"—a marvelous mix of the James brothers and the Three Stooges. He even has taken shots at that certified American hero, Bob (Musical Chairs) Knight, for the way he used Tisdale in the Olympics: "Having Wayman screen all the time is like having Mickey Mantle bunt," Tubbs said.
Some Oklahomans believe Tubbs, 49, hasn't been the same since he was hit by a car while jogging in 1983, an accident that shattered his pelvis. The implication is that he literally had some screws knocked loose. Missouri coach Norm Stewart has said, "If we run over Tubbs again, maybe he will be O.K." But when Tubbs was four, he was hit by a truck and came out O.K., so he's already swinging with two strikes against him. Though he does admit to back problems and extreme loss of hearing in one ear, Tubbs says, "I ain't crazy, unless crazy is what I've always been. I'm just trying to win and have some fun."
The fun ended on Jan. 9 after Tubbs exploded (two technicals) during a 104-89 defeat at Tulsa, his hometown. He blamed the loss on the officials, vowed never to play in Tulsa again and inquired whether the Golden Hurricane had the "guts" to play in Norman. It was a genuinely graceless performance. Tubbs offered a public apology 10 days later, a move reportedly demanded by the Oklahoma board of regents.
"Let's put it this way," Tubbs said last week. "I gave up officiating on my own. I'd helped them enough over the years. Hey, though, what's wrong with poking fun? When you win, you should enjoy it. Hey, I say things in jest. I hate things that are boring. We want to be America's team, the universe's team. I want to have the first team to play home and home with Mars."
On Saturday Tisdale's brother, William, an Oklahoma reserve, led the Sooners onto the court as they waved fingers at the Kansas crowd. Close inspection verified they weren't middle fingers, but index fingers as in "We're No. 1." Guard Tim McCallister and an electrifying juco transfer, Anthony Bowie, scored from everywhere early as Oklahoma converted its first eight shots. But then the Jayhawks began to get easier opportunities, and the Sooners led only 42-40 at the half. Following intermission, Oklahoma got its fill of Kellogg. Snap. Crackle. Pop. Ball game. He hit Kansas's first four baskets in the second half and the Jayhawks had a lead, 48-46, they would not relinquish.
Meanwhile, a thoroughly disgusted Tisdale continued to swap sharp 'bows inside. "Get off me, boy," Mr. T growled as he nailed Mark Pellock, a 17-year-old freshman who skipped his senior year in high school to study, among other things, Russian at Kansas. Instantly, a furious Brown roared off the Jayhawk bench—and not merely to cry "nyet."
"Brown called me a couple of names I didn't appreciate," said Tisdale. "He didn't show much class." But what Kansas showed Oklahoma was a little humility. And a lot of a born flake named Kellogg.