DATE OF EVENT: Monday, April 4, 1988
DATE PUBLISHED: Tuesday, April 5, 1988, in The Kansas City Times
Editor’s note: The Jayhawks won their first NCAA title in 36 years at the 50th Final Four, held in Kansas City at Kemper Arena. Oklahoma, their opponent, came into the championship game with a 35-3 record and had beaten the Jayhawks twice in the regular season. Kansas came in with a 26-11 record as they went on to win their second national championship.
Kansas won the NCAA basketball championship. The national championship.
Really, do you believe it? Kansas, a team that once was 12-8 this season, at the top of the heap?
You bet. In a sweaty-palm, stop-your-heart, gritty performance, the Jayhawks defeated Oklahoma 83-79 Monday night at Kemper Arena.
It was everything an NCAA championship game should be. More. Even more than that.
The Jayhawks didn’t bother to try to trick Oklahoma or slow the ball down or any of that stuff. They took it right at the Sooners. And Oklahoma didn’t budge. The two teams went at each other as only two teams from the same conference could.
They slugged it out to a 50-50 halftime tie, the most points ever scored in the first half of an NCAA title game. The effort didn’t drop in the second half, but the pace did as the teams gradually wore down.
It came down to the last minute and a half. With Kansas ahead 77-73 and 1:28 to play, the Jayhawks’ Clint Normore missed the first of a one-and-one free throw chance. No matter. Oklahoma’s Mookie Blaylock missed at the other end.
Then Milt Newton, who wasn’t even a starter when this season opened, gave Kansas a five-point lead with a free throw. He missed the second, and Ricky Grace pulled the Sooners to 78-75 with a driving shot.
Danny Manning, who had carried Kansas through an improbable five-game tournament winning streak, then missed the first of a one-and-one with 50 seconds left; Blaylock pulled Oklahoma within a point, 78-77, with a tough shot just inside the three-point arc.
Kansas spread its offense, running the clock down pass by pass. Foul. Scooter Barry at the free-throw line with 16 seconds left.
First one up. Good.
Second one up. No good.
But Manning rebounded. His 17th of the night. Now the game –– the culmination of Manning’s career –– came down to two free throws.
He made them both.
Honest to gosh, HE MADE THEM BOTH.
“Everything we planned, everything we dreamed about, was right there,” said Manning’s father, Ed. “And Danny got it done for us.”
Kansas was ahead by four points with 14 seconds left, but if ever there was a team that could make a rally work in that situation, it was Oklahoma.
Ricky Grace took the ball the length of the floor and stuck it in the basket. Now, it was 81-79. Seven seconds left.
KU inbounded the ball to Manning. Foul. Five seconds left. Manning back to the free-throw line.
And he did it again. Both of them.
Now, for sure, the dream was real.
Oklahoma finished its season with a 35-4 record – and heartbreak.
Kansas finished 27-11 – and euphoric.
I’m not on Cloud Nine,” guard Clint Normore said. “I’m way beyond that.”
The Jayhawks last won a national basketball championship in 1952 behind a player of the year named Clyde Lovellette. This year it was Manning, who finished with 31 points and 18 rebounds in his last collegiate game.
“We have the greatest player in the game,” Kansas Coach Larry Brown said. “With a great player like him, you’ve always got a chance.”
Kansas already had lost twice this season to Oklahoma and had lost all three of its previous NCAA championship games in Kansas City. But as it turned out the Jayhawks finished with more than a chance. They took the title.