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Curry Kirkpatrick
April 11, 1988
Danny Manning rose far above Oklahoma to lift upstart Kansas to the NCAA championship
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April 11, 1988

A One Man Show

Danny Manning rose far above Oklahoma to lift upstart Kansas to the NCAA championship

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How about Kansahoma? In Monday's first half the Jayhawks matched the Sooners basket for basket, sprint for spectacle. On the Oklahoma side, Sieger was nonchalantly lofting six three-point grenades, and guard Mookie Blaylock was stealing everything but Bob Dole's leftover farm vote. On the other side, Manning worked his wonders aided by the likes of Milt (Alfreaka) Newton, who scored two of his 15 points on a whirling, windmill, freako bucket, and Clint Normore, a volunteer Brown picked off the Kansas football team, whose three for three contributed to Kansas's 71% first-half shooting.

At intermission, the score was 50-50, and the pace had been so frenetic that gasping referee John Clougherty looked as if he needed an oxygen tank. Said Ed Steitz, progenitor of the college three-point shot, "I'm changing the rules tomorrow; the game's not exciting enough. We need six refs for this one."

For the Jayhawks, the problem with all this breathless fun was that they didn't really want to run. Brown knew they couldn't do it for another 20 minutes. "But it's hard not to run with them," said Kansas point guard Kevin Pritchard. "It's an ego thing. You feel like you're on the playground having a good time."

No one had a better time than Brown, whose coachly wanderings, elegant haberdashery and constant, cloying, Jerry Lewis-like references to his "kids" sometimes camouflages his sideline genius. In resurrecting the Jayhawks after the in-season losses to injury of their tragic tin man, forward Archie Marshall, and others. Brown had pulled off a work of art. And he knew it. During a Monday-afternoon stroll through Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, restaurants, shops and traffic all came to a worshipful standstill as he passed.

If the fans were ready for Brown to divine something, it was expected to come in the form of a slow-down game. But Brown didn't rein in his Jayhawks in the title game until midway through the second half when Kansas spread out, worked the clock and cut off Oklahoma's speed game. Brown ordered the Jayhawks' big men to handle the ball so that the Sooners' thieving guards, Blaylock (seven steals) and Ricky (Amazing) Grace couldn't get to it. And all that running? "They were just teasing us," said Sooner center Stacey King.

Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs also sensed exhaustion in his team. Although he refused to rest either King or forward Harvey Grant by calling on his fearsome pinch hitter, Andre (The Creator) Wiley, he did switch the Sooners into a zone. Nonetheless, King and Grant, who combined for 29 points in the first 28 minutes, got two in the last 12 and might as well have been sitting up in the stands with Barry Switzer for all the notice their teammates gave them down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the 6'10" Manning hit a couple of astounding baskets—a flat-footed hook over two defenders and a lefthanded squeaker across the lane—in addition to doing a ferocious watch-me-block-and-catch-your-shot-chump! number on one of King's last jumpers. "[Danny] wanted this one bad," said King. "He went an extra level higher."

After Pritchard nailed a little leaner, Kansas had the lead for good, 73-71, with 5:35 remaining. Four Munchkins—Newton, Normore, Piper and Pritchard—wound up making a combined 19 of 22 as the Jayhawks shot 63.3% for the game. With 3:05 left, Piper swished a fallaway, which just beat the shot clock for Kansas's biggest lead, 77-71. "I didn't think anybody really had control of this thing until then." said Tubbs.

Still, Manning suddenly threw up some horridly forced, glass-crashing stuff. "T was so excited," he said. "I looked over at the bench and coach was jumping up and down." Blaylock's turnaround cut the margin to 78-77 with 41 seconds left: Jayhawk Scooter Barry made the first free throw of a one-and-one, and when he missed the second, Manning rebounded, was fouled and made both his foul shots: 81-77 with 14 seconds left. Grace drove for a layin, but two more Manning free throws with five seconds iced the game.

What were you thinking on those last free throws, Danny Manning? "I was thinking, It's over," he said. "Before I shot them." With his 31 points for the night, Manning had merely passed Bill Bradley, Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson on the NCAA tournament career scoring charts; his 328 points are second only to Elvin Hayes's 358.

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