OU met Arizona in a battle of No. 1 seeds at the 1988 Final Four.
Aug. 13, 2007
NORMAN, Okla. - Each Monday through August, SoonerSports.com will take you back in time with the OU men's basketball program as we highlight some of the biggest games and biggest names from the 1970s, '80s, '90s and 2000s.
The 10th segment focuses on Oklahoma's 1988 Final Four contest against Arizona inside Kansas City's Kemper Arena. Lute Olson's Wildcats were 35-2 and ranked No. 2 in the AP poll. Billy Tubbs' Sooners were 34-3 and ranked No. 4. Both teams were No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds.
Was Sean Elliott's 31-point effort enough to derail the title hopes of OU's Harvey Grant, Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock? Who performed valiantly in place of King after the center picked up his fourth foul with more than nine minutes left?
April 2, 1988
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 Arizona | Box Score
Even the most casual Oklahoma basketball fan who is old enough remembers the 1988 national championship game against Kansas in which the sixth-seeded Jayhawks upset top-seeded OU 83-79 in their own back yard of Kansas City, Mo.
But less mentioned among the most memorable games in school history is the contest that propelled the Sooners to that national title tilt - OU's national semifinal matchup with fellow No. 1 seed Arizona.
The Pac-10 champion Wildcats, who entered the Final Four with a 35-2 record and had just dismantled No. 2 seed North Carolina 70-52, were a potent offensive squad led by All-America forward Sean Elliott, big man Anthony Cook and sharp-shooting guard Steve Kerr. As a team, Arizona boasted the nation's best field goal percentage (54.8) and best 3-point percentage (49.3).
With Oklahoma also boasting a high-scoring attack (it averaged more than 100 points a game), the question was which defense would be able to stop the other team's offense.
Early in the contest, it was Arizona that took command on both ends of the floor. The Wildcats jumped out to a 9-2 advantage against OU's normally staunch man-to-man defense. Sensing he needed to alter his defensive strategy, Sooners' head coach Billy Tubbs employed a variety of zone defenses in an effort to stymie Lute Olson's Wildcats.
The tactic produced immediate results as Oklahoma went on a 14-4 run to take a 16-13 advantage.
After the game, Tubbs acknowledged, "I think we confused them with the zone. That's when we took control."
Take control the Sooners did. In fact, they never relinquished their lead.
OU carried a 39-27 advantage to halftime and answered every Arizona second-half threat. The Wildcats drew to within three, 51-48, but a 7-2 Sooners' run made the score 58-50. An Elliott 3-point play later helped Arizona pull to within four at 58-54, but responses by Harvey Grant and Mookie Blaylock put OU back up by eight.
"Just when I thought we'd catch them, they'd pull away again," said a frustrated Olson later.
Arizona's best chance to catch up came with 9:16 remaining and OU up by nine. That's when Stacey King, who had already torched the Wildcats for 21 points and six rebounds, went to the bench with his fourth foul. King entered the game as the NCAA Tournament's top scorer (28.5 ppg) and rebounder (9.8 rpg), so his position on the pine bolstered the hopes of the Arizona faithful.
However, Oklahoma reserve forward Andre Wiley, who a day earlier wowed the crowd with a spectacular array of dunks during OU's open Kemper Arena practice session, replaced King against the Wildcats and more than held his own. Wiley supplied 11 points and four rebounds in King's absence. He did so well, Tubbs never reinserted King into the game.
When the final horn sounded the scoreboard told the story: Oklahoma 86, Arizona 78.
"I felt pretty good out there, pretty relaxed," said Wiley. "Coach Tubbs told me to hit the boards and play good defense, so that's what I did."
Play good defense is what the rest of the Sooners did, as well. OU held Arizona to 44.4 percent shooting on the night and just a 26.1 percent 3-point mark. Kerr, who entered the game sporting an incredible 59.9 percent season figure from beyond the arc, was just 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) from long range.
"That was a lot of potential points right there," said Kerr referring to his missed 3-pointers. "That kind of (fast-paced) game takes it out of your legs."
The Sooners also forced 15 turnovers in the contest, four more than the Wildcats averaged on the year.
OU's up-and-down-the-court style more than impressed CBS television analyst Billy Packer.
"I have never seen a better conditioned team in all my life than Oklahoma," he said during the broadcast.
Grant and King both finished with 21 points for the Sooners, with Grant also pulling down a team-high 10 boards. In addition to Wiley's 11 points, Ricky Grace tallied 13, Dave Sieger 10 and Blaylock seven.
Next up was conference rival Kansas and Big Eight Player of the Year Danny Manning.
Said OU assistant coach Jim Kerwin, "We knew this was a heck of a basketball conference, but the rest of the nation didn't. Now they do."
Notes: Oklahoma's win over Arizona catapulted it into its second national title game (OU lost to Holy Cross in the 1947 championship game) ... Mookie Blaylock registered two steals in the game, giving him an NCAA record 143 for a single season ... Sean Elliott finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds for Arizona ... OU improved to 35-3 on the year ... The game marked Oklahoma's fourth win of the season inside Kemper Arena.