The Oklahoma Sooners have Finally found an offense that can win the national championship, but it ain't the wishbone. And darn if the thing wasn't right there on campus all along.
Where exactly? Well, trudge through the blizzard to Memorial Stadium and keep on going. Then turn right at the snowdrifts and stagger into Lloyd Noble Center, and you'll see this offense in its full glory right there on, of all places, the basketball court.
Now get out of the way. Because the Sooners' attack—call it the wish-home: Opponents wish Oklahoma would hurry up and score its 130 so they can go home—is possessed of the same sort of power as the winter storm that last week nearly blew the entire state away, along with the bad memories of another lost football weekend in Miami.
Ah, but it's a new season, and another Oklahoma team is already raging through the schedule, "crushin' and killin' " in the words of the Sooners' fair-haired, if not so fair-minded, little coach, Billy Tubbs. Sooner teams, as we know, love big numbers. You think the footballers score a lot? In the last five seasons, Tubbs's teams have finished sixth, third, first, third and third in the land in scoring. And in 1987-88 Oklahoma is threatening to blow the lid off every NCAA scoring record.
January 18, 1988
One hundred seven against Illinois State, a proponent of deliberate pace. One hundred nine against Virginia, a member of the proud ACC. Against Loyola of Chicago, 123. Oral Roberts, 144. Dayton, 151. Centenary, 152. Georgia State coach Bob Reinhart, whose team got off relatively easy—Oklahoma nipped the Panthers 124-81—could take it no longer. On a dead ball, he sent one of his players down the floor to implore the Sooner coaches to call off the dogs. Tubbs responded by ordering his players back into their fire-engine full-court press. "Damn guy wanted mercy," Tubbs says. "Wanted me to back off. That's against the law. They call it point shaving. I'm not going to jail. Damn!"
Loyola coach Gene Sullivan treated his 123-73 annihilation with more equanimity. "If you're going to lose, you might as well lose by 50, right?" he said, after collecting a $15,000 guarantee for agreeing to play in Norman. "When you come here and take the money, you've got to absorb the punishment."
The Sooners dished out more of the same at home last Saturday afternoon. They opened Big Eight conference play by blasting Oklahoma State 108-80 for their 14th victory without a loss, as 6'10" center Stacey (Sky) King and 6'5" forward Dave Sieger scored 26 points apiece. King's overall improvement in the pivot has been the main reason Oklahoma seems better than ever, despite the loss of three key seniors from last season's team. But it was Sieger, an electrical engineering major and a perennial Big Eight All-Academic selection after turning down Stanford to play for the Sooners, who best represented the Oklahoma philosophy in Saturday's game.
Sieger had already rung up eight three-pointers when Tubbs sent him back in the game with 2:53 left and the Sooners ahead 104-70. Why? So Sieger could try to break his own conference single-game record for treys. Sieger, one of only two whites on the Oklahoma roster, is affectionately called Soul Man by his mates. But try as he could to get the ball, Soul Man had to keep watching the Sooner subs ignore him as they heaved up threes of their own inimitable creation. So when he finally got a chance, Sieger whirled and threw up what might have become the season's first turnaround three.
He missed, but Tubbs loved it anyway. "Disorganized?" he said. "Nah. We got guys who are willing to go for it under all possible circumstances."
As always, last week's Oklahoma devastation was inspired by Mookie, Amazing and the Poms, which is not a new reggae group. Mookie Blaylock and Ricky (Amazing) Grace are the Sooners' elusive little backcourt partners; the Poms are the rather gorgeous Sooner pom-pom dancers, which include one Taylor Tubbs. "Best athlete in the family," says her dad, the coach.
Blaylock, barely six feet, transferred in from Midland (Texas) Junior College this season to join his old Midland back-court mate, the 6'1" Grace. While Grace handles the point (108 assists through last week, including 12 against Oklahoma State), Blaylock defends it (71 steals, including an NCAA-record 13 against Centenary). Blaylock also was averaging 18.6 points a game—third among the Sooners to forward Harvey Grant's 23.4 and King's 19.1—and bearing up under the Oklahoma P.A. announcer's assaults on his name: "Mookiemookiemookie. Basket by the Mook!"
"It's wild," says the Mookster, who was christened Daron. "But I don't know why I've always been Mookie. I never asked my mom."
"We kid him about it," says Grant, "but good thing the Mook don't take it personably."
Hoping the NBA doesn't take it personably, the Sooners, at the end of last week, were averaging 115.5 points a game, third in North America behind only the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs. (In points per minute, however, Oklahoma was No. 1, at 2.9.) Moreover, the Sooner defense had forced an astounding 30 turnovers a game. But Oklahoma's most impressive stat might have been its 38.3-point winning margin average, which, if it holds, will shatter UCLA's record 30.3-point mark set in 1971-72.
No wonder Tubbs was disappointed with his 28-point victory Saturday. He felt that with the intrastate rivals in town and the game on regional TV, the Sooners would be sufficiently pumped up to crank out another 140-pointer. As it was, they barely eked out their 11th trip over the century mark and just managed to keep on pace to break such other NCAA season records as most points, assists and steals.
"I love all these records," Tubbs says. "I especially loved that Centenary game. In the first half we broke the Big Eight conference record for points in a half . In the second half we tied our own new record. Haw, haw! I just wish we could've set it and broken it in the same game. Course we've since smashed the hell out of it [79 against both Dayton and Oral Roberts]." His next target? Nevada-Las Vegas's single-game scoring mark, 164 points, established against Hawaii-Hilo in 1976. "We're going to punch that sucker out and clear the air," says Tubbs.
"I might feel sorry for these teams getting blown out by 40 and 50," says Grace, "but I've been around Coach too long. He says, 'Remember where nice guys finish.' He gave us his goals real early. He wants 90 points in a half, 175 in a game. You think he's serious?"
He's serious. Tubbs got thrown out of the season opener against Texas A & M—with his team ahead by 31 points. He's a hard-scrabble Tulsan who played and coached at Lamar, where his team set his most cherished national record of all: 86 points in a half. "Running up scores is nothing new," says Tubbs's wife, Pat.
What is new is that these Sooners have a passing attack. Indeed, selflessness may be the key factor separating this group from earlier versions. "They're a better team than in any of the [Wayman] Tisdale years," says Illinois State coach Bob Donewald. "Quicker, more ways to score. They're also ahead of where [eventual national champion] Indiana was at this time last season."
"I've got five guys who can run the floor and bust it for 40 minutes every night," says Tubbs, "and nobody knows who to slack off of because they can all shoot it." Indeed. Grace scored 25 at Florida State, Blaylock had 30 against Georgia, King 33 against Texas A & M, Grant 40 against Oral Roberts, Tyrone Jones 24 against Centenary.
And yet the Sooners get most of their offense off their full-court, overplaying, ball-denial press. "Last season our philosophy was, Give them two points, we'll come down and shoot for three," says Grace. "This year we want to stop you, strip you and get layups. It's no màs, no màs."
The man who gets màs for the Sooners is the slivery 6'8" Grant, who is a quick-triggered, look-alike, play-alike, not of his twin brother, the Chicago Bulls' Horace, but of that brilliant-shooting basket-hanger, Bob McAdoo. Says King, who combined with Grant for 47 points against Oklahoma State, "Me and Harvey can score inside on anybody, man-for-man." O.K., but what about when the Sooners face the Big Eight heavies: Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State?
"Bring 'em on," says King. "The folks in the crowd were dead today because we've spoiled 'em. A hundred isn't any big thing now. Our goal is to beat people bad and make a point. Nobody felt sorry for us when we lost our seniors. They ranked us third in the conference and about 30th in the country. Our train is still movin', and we're takin' tickets."
And punchin' them suckers out.