April 03, 1988

Too bad that the members of the International Drag Bike Association, who were assembled in Birmingham last weekend, had to spend Saturday afternoon out on the track. The bikers might have appreciated the scene in the Civic Center, where a take-no-prisoners gang from Oklahoma rolled into the final of the Southeast Regional, spun its wheels for a while and then had its way with Cinderella and sped off to Kansas City.

The final score was Oklahoma 78, Villanova 59, but that result hardly reflects the fact that this was a real rumble, a complex battle of styles and psyches that created a three-point game—57-54 in favor of the Sooners—after 35 minutes. Nor does it reveal how Oklahoma pressed and raced and scored 21 points in the last five. "They were a time bomb waiting to erupt," said Mark Plansky of the Wildcats.

Before those final minutes, though, the spotlight in this regional—to the chagrin of Big East haters and People Against Cigar Smokers—was again on the pudgy genius of coaches, roly-poly Rollie Massimino of Villanova. His Undercats, Patrick Ewing might recall, won the NCAA championship in 1985, after a victorious subregional in Ohio (Dayton) and stunning regional upsets in Birmingham. Now Villanova had come clawing into town after another subregional in Ohio (this time, Cincinnati). "Destiny?" said Wildcat center Tom Greis. "It's starting to happen, and it's bigger than all of us."

It was too big for favored Kentucky as Villanova whipped the other Cats 80-74, with 'Nova's 5'9" point guard, Kenny Wilson, harassing Kentucky's previously splendid Ed Davender into a 2-of-12 performance. After the Sooners' 108-98 sprint relay past Louisville, Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs was asked what he thought of Villanova. Bad Billy's opinion of the Big East approximates his taste for the delay game. "The coach needs to carry a comb in his pocket," he said. "Other than that, they're a very good team."

Against the Sooners the Wildcats took a 38-31 lead into the locker room, thanks largely to Wilson, who penetrated for 13 points. Tubbs's coaching is considered deep only in wit, but at intermission he made a subtle defensive adjustment. Ricky Grace, rather than the Sooners' key burglar, Mookie Blaylock, would check Wilson and deny him the drive. "We could have cracked right there," Tubbs said after the game. "We sensed that. But I told them if we deserve to make it to the Final Four, we'll get it done."

Tubbs had been screaming all game for five-second calls against the Villanova backcourt, and sure enough, the Cats were called for just such a violation during a critical 11-0 Sooner run in the second half. Tubbs also engaged in a shouting match with Massimino, during which, said Tubbs, "we complimented each other with pet names."

In the final 14 minutes the Wildcats made exactly three shots; Wilson made none. "Adjustments on Wilson? Kenny could have penetrated anytime," said Massimino, somewhat short of the conviviality he displays when outgeniusing everybody. "I thought we did a fabulous job—for 34 minutes."

"Villanova's in the Big East?" said Tubbs afterward. "I wish you had told me. I thought it was Atlantic 10." Ouch.

In the look-alike war, with Tubbs as Jack Nicholson and Massimino as Danny DeVito, not only did Oklahoma's smashing victory throw Momma from the train, but the Sooner gang tied Daddy Mass to the tracks and ran over him as well.

PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHOStacey King scored 52 points over two games to earn MVP honors in Birmingham.

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