IN OTHERS' WORDS: Biggest Monday
On Monday, two teams, both ranked No. 1 in the country by the major national polls, faced each other in one of college basketball's greatest settings. Lon Kruger's Oklahoma Sooners fell in triple overtime to the Kansas Jayhawks in what national commentator Dick Vitale called the greatest game he had ever seen.
We take a look back at the game with two Oklahoma basketball insiders: the voice of the Sooners, Toby Rowland, and Assistant A.D. for Strategic Communications Mike Houck, who spent the first 20 of his 21 years at OU working directly with the men's basketball program.
What did you expect from this game coming in?
MH: I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t matter what you expect, because games so often don’t pan out how you think they will. It wouldn’t have surprised me if OU pulled out the win, or if KU won by 10. It’s such a tough place to play. So I didn’t really know what to expect in this one, other than for it to be a fierce battle. With it being No. 1 vs. No. 1, that’s the ONE thing I expected. Well, that and Buddy Hield having a good shooting night after observing him make 34 3-pointers in a row during shootaround that afternoon.
TR: I certainly was expecting a great game. With all the 1 vs. 2 buildup, I don’t remember an OU regular season game with that much buzz going into it in a long time. I drove to the game and caught quite a bit of national sports radio and podcasts on the way up and Oklahoma-Kansas had center stage. No Monday Night Football. No bowl games. The focus of the sports world on Monday night was going to be on Lawrence, Kansas.
What was the atmosphere like pregame compared to other visits to Phog Allen?
MH: It always feels different at Allen Fieldhouse, but this time there was more energy and anticipation than I’ve felt before any of the 12 previous OU-KU games I attended in that building. Just pure excitement. There's always a pregame buzz there, but without question it was heightened for this one.
TR: I noticed during shoot around earlier in the day that there were many more people in the gymnasium than normal. More cameras…more reporters. You could sense an excitement and tension and it was still eight hours before tipoff. When I got into the arena at 6:30 it was about half full, that’s pretty normal in Lawrence, but the air was thicker than normal. I found coach Kruger in the tunnel for our pregame radio interview and he couldn’t move two steps without shaking a hand or taking a picture with someone. Buddy ran onto the court first, like always, to start getting pregame shots up and he was met by a chorus of boos. He grinned from ear to ear and began his shooting routine. Ryan Spangler came over to our radio position courtside to finish tying his shoes as he walked on the court. I said, “get ready to get booed.” He replied, “Yep. This is going to be fun.”
"This is the loudest arena I've ever heard in my 37 years. I cannot believe it!" - Dick Vitale. pic.twitter.com/sWj1sgBImV— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) January 5, 2016
What were you thinking when Kansas went up 32-21 on the Brannen Greene 3-POINTER?
MH: I’ve seen it so many times at The Phog. KU has a little space on the scoreboard, goes on a run, crowd goes wild and it spells doom for the visitors. That first-half run certainly had a little bit of that feel, but there was just way too much time left to count out this group of Sooners.
TR: After seeing the big comeback last year in Lawrence, I didn’t feel too much panic when OU fell behind early. Kansas goes on big runs in that place, so it was expected. I was disappointed that they fell behind early to them again, but not overly concerned.
OU then went on an 18-3 run to end the half. What do you remember about that?
MH: Jordan Woodard, primarily. He only had two points in the game’s first 17 minutes but scored nine in that huge run to end the half. KU was so intent on not allowing good looks for Buddy that Jordan was able to shake free on the left wing for a pair of triples and he buried them. Great job by Buddy to find him and get him the ball both times.
TR: The OU run to take the lead before half reminded me of the run to start the second half against Harvard in Hawaii. It happened so fast. They went from down 11 to up four lickety split. That’s becoming a trademark of this team. They are capable of devastatingly quick spurts that make your head spin. At that point, I felt like the Sooners had taken Kansas' best punch and still led at the half. They were in good shape.
Describe the end of regulation.
MH: Such a rollercoaster of emotions in a very short amount of time. The Sooners were down by two after leading the entire second half, at one point by double digits. Buddy gets fouled with 21 seconds left and calmly makes both free throws to knot it at 77 and silence the deafening crowd. Then Frank Mason gets a step on his defender, drives the lane but misses a left-handed circus layup attempt, and Khadeem Lattin grabs the rebound with two seconds to go. One of the officials calls KU for an over-the-back foul and Khadeem needs to make the front end of the 1-and-1 to give OU the lead and a likely win. D-e-e-p breaths.
TR: As the game came down the stretch, I remember just thinking, “this is perfect.” It’s two teams, both ranked No. 1, and we’re tied in one of the classic settings in all of sports. I scribbled a note to my partner, Scott Thompson, telling him to not be afraid to let the broadcast breathe down the stretch. It’s okay to just let the crowd be loud. I didn’t want to get in the way of the atmosphere.
What word went thrOUGH your mind when Lattin missed the front end of the 1-and-1?
MH: Just one word? Ummm…let’s go with “shucks.” No time for head hanging, though. (We're just getting started.)
TR: When Khadeem missed the free throw, I felt bad for him. You could tell he was heart broken. But I didn’t necessarily feel a sense of doom. I still felt like Buddy would find a way to win.
When did you know this game was special?
MH: Had a really good feeling it was going to be different than any of the previous OU-KU games I’d seen in Lawrence when the Sooners went up 5-0 on Buddy’s corner 3 and Khadeem’s alley-oop slam. It was obvious that Oklahoma came to play, and the crowd seemed a little stunned. Can’t say I had any inkling the game would wind up as special as it did, though. Nobody did.
TR: I knew it was a special game going in because of the rankings. But, when Wayne Selden missed the open three-pointer at the end of the first overtime, I knew we were watching something historic. I took off my headset during that commercial break and just looked around. I wanted to soak it in. We were watching great teams led by great coaches getting great performances from great players in a building that is famously historic, but a building that has never seen anything like this. I didn’t want it to end. At that point, the winner was not the headline. The game itself was the star.
Just turn on your tv. This is awesome double OT 1 vs 2 Espn NOW @ESPNCBB— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) January 5, 2016
Were theRE any specific points when you thought the game was over, but it wasn’t?
MH: I think I lost count. I remember feeling multiple times for both teams that they were on life support. Felt pretty confident with OU up eight points and possession with 7:30 left in the second half, but KU tied it less than two minutes later. And felt good again with just under two minutes left in the first overtime and ahead by five. That lead was gone about a minute later, as well.
TR: I don’t know that I ever really thought it was over, but when Oklahoma jumped out to a five-point lead in the first overtime I thought they had them. It seemed maybe Kansas had hit the wall and OU was about to put them away. The other moment was when Jordan Woodard hit his last 3-pointer with a minute to go in the third overtime. That put OU up two and I was convinced they simply weren’t going to lose. They just kept hitting shots.
MH: Buddy needs to be mentioned in the same breath as Blake Griffin when it comes to combination of talent and work ethic. He’s tough. He’s ultra-competitive. Versatile. Relentless. Shooter. Maker. Clutch. Sooner.
National. Player. Of. The. Year?
TR: Buddy Hield is a special kid. Sooner fans, and certainly everyone around the program has known that for a long time. But, for him to decide to come back for his senior year and then have a night like Monday night in front of the largest television audience to ever see a Big 12 Big Monday game, I was smiling in my soul. It was like we were on a movie set, and he was the leading man. He’s an amazing basketball player who’s work ethic and positive attitude have made a long-lasting impact on this basketball program. I’m proud to know that kid, and I’m proud that he’s a Sooner.
This kid Buddy Hield for Oklahoma is the TRUTH!! Putting in work vs Kansas..— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) January 5, 2016
Why did this game matter?
MH: The college basketball world "took notice" that OU is for real. Sooner Nation already knew, but everyone else learned that this team is talented, well-coached and has heart. To have Kansas on the ropes as many times as it did in that environment…I’ve never been more proud of an OU team in defeat as I was Monday night. It was certainly the best basketball game I've ever witnessed. Can’t wait for the Feb. 13 rematch and for the postseason.
TR: I don’t know that we’ll know what this game means in this year’s pursuit of a Big 12 title and seeding and the Final Four for a couple months. If its possible for a team to gain respect in a loss, that certainly happened for Oklahoma. Their stock went up…no doubt. But on a grander scale, college basketball needed a shot in the arm and it got it Monday night in Lawrence. The national dialogue has increasingly been that college basketball wasn’t entertaining and too hard to watch. Rules have been changed to try to make the college game more like the NBA. It has been a struggle. But on Monday night, the sports world stopped and was wrapped in a crimson-infused drama that none of us will ever forget. I brought my two sons with me to the game. They had never been to Allen Fieldhouse. When I signed off the broadcast I took off my headphones and said to them, “that’s it. You will never see a better basketball game than that one.”
Kansas fans give Buddy Hield a standing ovation after his ESPN interview. pic.twitter.com/iVX0fQW2sN— MarcusD (@_MarcusD_) January 5, 2016
Tickets are sold out to the rematch of this classic in Norman, but some tickets are still available to other Oklahoma home games. Buy Online