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Greatest College Basketball Teams: Spotlight 1988 Oklahoma
The 1988 Oklahoma Sooners basketball team went 35-4. They lost 79-83 to Kansas in the NCAA Championship after beating the Jayhawks twice in the regular season. The Sooners’ high powered offense averaged 102.9 points per game while the Sooners’ pressing defense held opponents to just 81 points per game. Oklahoma’s coach Billy Tubbs summed it up when he said, “This was a great Oklahoma team.”
The 1988 Oklahoma team set school records for wins (35), points (4,012), points per game (102.9), rebounds (1,658), field goals (1,533), 3-point field goals (299), assists (862) and steals (486). Their 21.9 point margin of victory was the largest of any NCAA Division I team in 1988. “We were second in scoring average in the nation with 102.9 points a game,” coach Tubbs said. “We felt that we could score when we needed to, and eventually wear the other team down.”
Oklahoma was led by 6’10” junior center Stacey King (22.3 pts., 8.5 reb.). “It was fun,” King said of the 1988 season. “[Coach Tubbs] just turned us loose, and we played an up-tempo game.” King was an All-American in 1988 and 1989. He is second all-time at Oklahoma in career free throws (492), free throw attempts (713), blocked shots (228) and blocked shots per game (2.0). King’s 103 blocks and 2.6 blocks per game in 1988 are Oklahoma single season records.
Stacey King had academic problems his freshman year at Oklahoma. His sophomore year, he improved his grades, but he couldn’t make a shot. King studied hard and lifted weights. By the beginning of the 1987-88 season, King was a “B” student who weighed 35 pounds more than at the start of the prior season. “Stacey came farther since high school than any other player I ever had,” coach Tubbs said of his star.
King was the sixth pick in the first round of the 1989 NBA draft. He went on to win three NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls, averaging 6.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game during his eight-year NBA career.
King got plenty of help in the front court from 6’8” senior power forward Harvey Grant (20.9 pts., 9.4 reb.). “I knew Oklahoma and coach Tubbs were for me,” Grant said. They want to run, shoot the ball and get the fans excited…. That’s when basketball is really fun.” Grant was an All-American in 1988. He tied the single season Oklahoma record for field goal attempts with 640.
Grant transferred to Oklahoma after a year in junior college and a year at Clemson with his brother Horace. Harvey Grant’s junior year, he averaged 16.9 points per game.
Grant was the 12th pick in the first round of the 1988 NBA draft. In 11 years in the NBA, Grant averaged 13.7 points and 6 rebounds per game.
In the backcourt, the 1988 Sooners were led by junior guard Mookie Blaylock. Blaylock averaged 16.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 3.8 steals in 1988. He was an All-American in 1989. Blaylock’s defense was legendary. He holds the Oklahoma records for steals in a season (150), steals per game for a season (3.8), steals for a career (281) and steals per game for a career (3.8). He is also in the top five in Oklahoma career assists and assists per game. As a junior college transfer, Blaylock holds these career records despite playing only two years!
“Blaylock has always been a fun player to watch,” coach Tubbs said. “He is certainly quick, maybe not the quickest I’ve coached, but he’s the best I’ve ever coached at just stripping the ball from somebody; just taking it away from them on the dribble. His speed and quickness were good, but his anticipation was much better. Mookie knew how to set up a guy and then clean him.”
Blaylock was the 12th pick in the first round of the 1989 NBA draft. In the NBA, Blaylock was twice named to the All-Defensive team and had more than 200 steals four times. In his 13-year NBA career, Blaylock averaged 13.5 points, 6.7 assists, and 2.33 steals per game.
The legendary “grunge” rock band Pearl Jam was originally named after Mookie Blaylock. Their first album, “Ten” is named after Blaylock’s jersey number.
Senior point guard Ricky Grace (14.7 pts., 6.5 ast.) played with Blaylock in junior college and encouraged Blaylock to come to Oklahoma. “I heard he was considering Kansas and I said ‘uh oh, I don’t want to play against him, ” Grace said. Grace set the Oklahoma single season assist record in 1988 with 280.
Grace was not an NBA first round draft pick, but he went on to play on four professional championship teams in Australia, leading the league in assists in 2003 and 2004.
Senior forward Dave Sieger was the best three-point shooter among the Sooners’ starters. Sieger averaged 10.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in 1988, shooting 39.7 percent from behind the arc.
In 1986-87, Oklahoma was 24-10. After losing six of their last nine games and falling from 8th to unrated in the national rankings, the Sooners picked it up in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners beat Tulsa and upset 12th ranked Pittsburgh before losing a nail-biter to Iowa 91-93. “Once the group in 1987 lost to Iowa,” coach Tubbs said, “the returning players vowed to get to the Final Four in 1988. That group was on a mission—with a cause.”
Oklahoma started the 1987-88 campaign as if they were on a mission. The Sooners started the season with a win over Texas A&M 104-80. The Sooners fast-break offense and pressure defense next led to wins over Penn State (93-59), Loyola-Chicago (123-73), Sam Houston State (111-69) and Florida State (89-87).
“They were by far the best pressing team that I’ve ever had in my years of coaching,” Tubbs said of the 1988 Oklahoma team. “They could go out and create a lot of turnovers.” The Sooners’ sixth game of the season against Centenary was the best example of the chaos the Oklahoma press could cause. The Sooners destroyed Centenary 152-84. The Sooners had 34 steals (a team record). Mookie Blaylock alone had 13 steals (also a team record).
The game after that, the Sooners beat Georgia State 124-81. At one point, Georgia State’s coach sent over a player to ask Oklahoma’s coach Tubbs to take it easy on his team. Tubbs was offended, called for the full-court press and ran up the score. “Damn guy wanted mercy,” Tubbs later said. “My philosophy is that we are going to play hard every minute of the game.”
Oklahoma followed up the Georgia State game with a three-day holiday tournament in Hawaii. The Sooners beat Virginia 109-61, Dayton 151-99 and Georgia 93-90. “I might feel sorry for these teams getting blown out by 40 or 50,” point guard Ricky Grace said, “but I’ve been around Coach too long. He says, ‘remember where nice guys finish.’”
After the holiday tournament, the Sooners won the next four in a row at home, beating their opponents by an average score of 117-75. In the second game of the four, the Sooners beat Illinois State 107-56 and blocked a school-record 14 shots. In the last game of the four, the Sooners beat Oklahoma State 108-80. Oklahoma State’s coach said “This Oklahoma team has the best full-court pressure I’ve ever seen. They have five great athletes who will pressure the ball. Even some of the great presses ever, like at UCLA, didn’t have five people coming out and pressuring the ball.”
The Sooners had won 14 in a row and had gone from being ranked 19th to being ranked 8th in the country. On January 11, the Sooners winning streak came to an end in a 77-84 loss to Louisiana State in New Orleans. Five days later, the Sooners lost again. Kansas State beat them in a game at Kansas State, 62-69.
Oklahoma didn’t stay down for long. The Sooners won the next 12 in a row before losing to Missouri in overtime at Missouri, 90-93.
The Sooners finished the regular season with a 113-93 win over Nebraska. In the first game of the Big Eight tournament, Oklahoma beat Colorado 134-84. The 134 points is the most any Oklahoma team has scored against a conference opponent. The Sooners avenged road losses to Missouri and Kansas State by beating them 102-99 and 88-83 to win the Big Eight Championship. “[The 1988 Sooners] were really, really good,” Kansas State’s point guard later recalled. “They scored a lot of points, pressed and turned people over…. They were so talented. I can assure you they were no fun to play.”
In the NCAA Tournament, Oklahoma charged through their Regional, winning their first four tournament games by an average score of 97-78. In the Final Four, the 4th ranked Sooners took on Sean Elliot and 2nd ranked Arizona. Elliott scored 31 points, but Oklahoma’s pressing defense was too much for Arizona. Mookie Blaylock shutdown Arizona’s top outside shooter, Steve Kerr, holding him to just 2 of 13 from the field. The Wildcats had 15 turnovers. King and Gant each scored 21 and Oklahoma won 86-78.
That set up one of the greatest NCAA Championship games of all-time in Kansas City. After shocking 5th ranked Duke 66-59, the unranked Kansas Jayhawks came into the game with a 26-11 record. The 4th ranked Sooners came into the game with a 31-3 record, having beat the Jayhawks twice in the regular season. “I think that we fully expected to be playing Duke instead of Kansas,” Dave Sieger said.
Oklahoma came out of the gates running. The Sooners pressing defense caused Kansas to turn over the ball 15 times in the first half. For the game, Kansas had 23 turnovers. Oklahoma had 13 steals. Mookie Blaylock alone had seven steals for the Sooners.
Sooners’ swingman Dave Sieger was six for eight from three-point range in the first half. Inside, Harvey Grant and Stacey King combined for 23 first-half points.
Kansas ran with the Sooners. The Jayhawks managed to stay in the game by shooting a red hot 71 percent in the first half.
When the smoke cleared, the score was tied 50-50 at halftime. “The first half of that game, a lot of people think, was one of the greatest first halves of a championship game,” coach Tubbs later said. “It was a heck of a first half.”
In the second half, it was Kansas, not Oklahoma, who controlled the tempo. The Jayhawks slowed down the game and got the ball inside to big man Danny Manning. Manning dominated on both ends of the floor, pouring in 31 points, pulling down 18 rebounds and grabbing five steals for the game.
The Kansas perimeter defense stepped up in the second half and Oklahoma wasn’t able to get the ball inside. Hot shooting Dave Sieger made just one of five second-half three pointers. Ricky Grace, who was cold all game, wound up shooting just 4 of 14 from the field and just 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. Harvey Grant and Stacey King scored just eight second-half points.
Despite the slower pace and the excellent Kansas defense, Oklahoma led 65-60 with about 12 minutes to go. The next minute was a key minute in the game. Kansas forward Chris Piper hit a 14-footer, Oklahoma turned the ball over, Danny Manning made a three-point play and Kansas evened the score at 65-65 with about 11 minutes to go.
The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes. Then, with the score tied at 71-71, Kansas took control. Kansas guard Kevin Prichard hit a six-footer. Kansas got the ball back and, as the shot clock was ticking down, Danny Manning drove the lane and scored. Kansas got the ball back again. Oklahoma double-teamed Danny Manning. As the shot clock wound down, unguarded forward Chris Piper hit a shot from the corner, giving Kansas a 77-71 lead.
With time ticking down, Oklahoma was forced to foul. Kansas hit just one of five free throws. Danny Manning missed two long jumpers. Oklahoma shaved the lead to 78-77 with 41 seconds left.
Kansas ran down more clock. Kansas guard Scooter Barry was finally fouled with 16 seconds left. He made his first free throw, but missed the second. Oklahoma’s Dave Sieger pushed Danny Manning in an attempt to get the rebound. With 14 seconds left, Manning sunk two free throws, giving Kansas an 80-77 lead.
Oklahoma wasn’t done yet. Ricky Grace bolted down the floor and made a layup to cut the lead to 80-79 with seven seconds left.
Manning got the inbounds pass and was immediately fouled. With five seconds left, Manning made two more free throws and Kansas was NCAA Champion, 82-79.
“Stacey King and Harvey Grant had off games against Danny Manning and Kansas in the championship,” coach Tubbs later said. “It was not their best performance, but they were solid. Manning was a key for Kansas that night. He was a great player and had a great game against us.”
“It’s bittersweet,” said Stacey King, the Sooners’ All American center and leading scorer. “You look at that team and it had so much talent it makes it frustrating. We had beaten Kansas twice pretty easily, and we coasted through the NCAA Tournament. We dominated the whole year. We’re definitely one team that should have won.”
Name Pos Class Pts Reb Ast
Stacey King C JR 22.3 8.5 1.1
Harvey Grant F SR 20.9 9.4 1.4
Mookie Blaylock G JR 16.4 4.2 6.0
Ricky Grace G SR 14.7 3.6 7.4
Dave Sieger F SR 10.9 4.9 3.5
Tyrone Jones F JR 6.3 1.8 1.5
Andre Wiley F JR 6.0 3.4 0.3
Terrance Mullins G FR 3.7 1.4 1.1
Tony Martin F JR 3.7 2.7 0.5
Art Pollard G JR 2.6 0.7 0.2
How would the 1988 Oklahoma Sooners do against the greatest teams of all time?
The 1988 Oklahoma team was a very, very good college team. Mookie Blaylock was an incredible defensive player. Blaylock, Ricky Grace and Dave Sieger could all shoot the three-pointer. Stacey King and Harvey Grant were both solid inside scorers and rebounders. Blaylock, King and Grant were all first round draft picks and decent NBA players. The Sooners fast paced offense and pressing defense, and their ability to score inside or outside, suggest they would do very well against the greatest teams of all time.
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